Adversity breeds stewardship and innovation

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick Higby
  • Installation commander
"To see the men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes ... without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled."

-- George Washington at Valley Forge, April 21, 1778

Being short of manpower and materiel is nothing new to commanders, though American commanders have generally enjoyed a material advantage over their adversaries. There are numerous famous exceptions, of course SEmDValley Forge, The Battle of the Alamo, The Battle of the Bulge, to name a few -- where American commanders and troops had to manage scarcity, innovate, endure, and sometimes sacrifice their lives. In that context, perhaps our current resource challenges arenSSRqt so bad SEmD or unprecedented.

If you watch the news, you have probably noted the increased pressure at all levels of government to reduce spending. These pressures are also being felt by the Department of Defense, the Air Force and Hill Air Force Base. This is certainly a challenging time for all of us.

In the short term, some might assume that when Congress uses continuing resolution funding of the government at last fiscal yearSSRqs levels, it would allow normal operations to continue. Not so. For instance, the 2010 budget did not include many 2011 SDLqmust paySDRq bills including: $1.2 billion for the military pay raise; $1.9 billion for increased operations and maintenance costs due to rising fuel, health care and inflation; and $1.5 billion for Afghanistan, Iraq and Libyan operations.

In the long term, some may suppose we could mitigate these future shortfalls through manpower attrition. But with a struggling economy, Air Force retention is at a 16-year high. Thus, the Air Force faces tough decisions with no easy answers.

The short-term continuing resolutions we faced through the first part of this fiscal year only compounded our problems and made us realize business as usual was not an option. As Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, cautioned a few weeks ago, SDLqWithout a 2011 Appropriations Bill, we have to reduce flying hours, delay or cancel some weapon system sustainment and depot maintenance activity and disrupt other day-to-day operations."

Air Force leaders at all levels had to weigh risks and make tough decisions.

Even when the FY 2011 Appropriations Bill passed, it left us short many millions of dollars and unable to easily overcome seven months of funding shortfalls in the last five months of the fiscal year.

Team Hill was already postured for this eventuality. Some organizations enacted strict controls on supply and travel expenses. Some activities were cut or postponed. After thoughtful consideration, we also deferred this yearSSRqs Air Show to 2012, which reduced our unfunded list by $225,000. We garnered another $647,000 reduction by curtailing our base-wide custodial contract, effective April 1 SEmD this means most facilities are now having restrooms cleaned only once per week, with no floor cleaning or vacuuming.

Exceptions are: the Warrior Fitness Center, the Child Development Center and reimbursable Depot Maintenance Facilities.

There are many other examples affecting Team Hill as our base operating support SDLqunfundedSDRq hovers around $16 million this fiscal year, not including the backlog in facilities projects. As your senior leaders make tough decisions about efficiencies, effectiveness and risk, you too, must apply stewardship to help resolve our budget and manpower crunch. Fortunately, even in tough economic times, good stewardship is free.

First, we must keep a positive attitude. Like the optimist who sees a half-full glass, we need to see budget challenges as opportunities to creatively extend resources, cut red tape and eradicate waste.

Second, we should work within our SDLqsphere of influence,SDRq that part of our work environment, including people, where we interact. For instance, while most of us canSSRqt directly affect national policy, we can lead the stewardship for our own work centers, facilities or neighborhoods. This includes everything from:
  • Turning off unused electrical items, to considering cost-effective service reductions when renewing service contracts;
  • Closing propped-open doors that are letting heating and air conditioning energy escape, to having an on-base neighborhood watch program to better cue our Security Forces;
  • Finding wasteful or unsafe steps in our processes that are justified by SDLqweSSRqve always done it this way,SDRq to collaborating with our customers and mission partners to better understand and more quickly fulfill requirements.

We need to determine where we can prudently accept more risk, but also highlight to leadership where we have accepted too much risk that may result in catastrophic mission failure. With stewardship and innovation, we can overcome our current financial challenges -- all while we continue to take the fight to a determined adversary.