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By Steve Kelman

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The Air Force goes to the front lines for cost-savings ideas

illustration dollar sign in vise

The Air Force's "Every Dollar Counts" campaign intends to put the squeeze on costs. (Stock image)

My friend Jim Tisdale at Los Angeles Air Force Base has called to my attention a campaign that is going on this month (it started May 1 and goes through May 30) to involve frontline uniformed and civilian Air Force people in efforts to save money in a tight budget environment where the Air Force has taken $11 billion in sequestration cuts. Jim is a dedicated contracting professional who takes seriously the cost-savings mission of contracting.

The campaign is called "Every Dollar Counts," and you can learn more about it by going to the Air Force home page. There you will see the campaign as the "featured link" in the top left corner of the site (just above the second featured link, on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention). If you click through, you will see an interview with Gen. Larry Spencer, vice chief of staff of the Air Force, a place to submit suggestions, and a listing of some suggestions that have been accepted so far.

There are several things I like about how this has been set up. First, the Air Force promises to quickly look at and respond to each suggestion – using a team of reviewers – so suggestions don't just disappear into a black hole. Second, they say that if a good suggestion requires a regulatory change that is within the service's authority, the Air Force will pursue it. Third, it is time-limited – unlike a classical "suggestion box" -- and doesn't drag on forever, increasing the incentive to act while the window is open.

Most importantly, this involves the frontline folks. This is good because the people doing the work are likely to be good sources of ideas, and also because it is really important in the sequestration environment than public servants don't get into a destructive -- and self-destructive -- mode of seeing themselves as victims.

I like the fact that the website gives examples of suggestions that have been acted on, together with names and pictures of those who made them. In a separate document Jim Tisdale sent me, these included efforts such as finding cell phones the service was paying for that no one was using; moving some training to a commercial wind tunnel at a fraction of the cost; and finding equipment missing from an inventory list so new equipment didn't need to be ordered.

I am hoping that other military services and civilian agencies will pick up on the Air Force's idea.

Posted on May 16, 2013 at 12:09 PM

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Reader comments

Mon, Aug 26, 2013

Collecting them is ONE thing...actually using them is another (ignored) thing. It may be worth looking into to and asking them WHAT they're doing with the ideas.

Tue, May 21, 2013 Michael N. Alexander Lexington,MA

Because this worthy program is "driven" by sequestration, it focuses on efficiency, rather than effectiveness. The AF ought to be interested in both. As Einstein said, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. The AF needs to look beyond bean counting and think about "softer" considerations like the quality of work environments, personnel management that genuinely (not putatively) encourages excellence and engagement. A straw in the wind comes from a "Comment" left on the AF home page, to the effect that this new program duplicates the AF's long-standing IDEA program. On the surfsce, it does, but I (and probably others) regarded the IDEA program as a graveyard for ideas that could generate beneficial change. Perhaps the Vice-Chief of Staff will consider creating, as a legacy for his program, a suggestion program in which suggestions (especially difficult ones, and not just "low-hanging fruit, get serious consideration by people who have power to effect change.

Mon, May 20, 2013 Steve Kelman

Thanks for your comments. You raise an interesting and complicated question about what kinds of phenomena encourage people to change. Don't have space to comment in detail, except to note that the same thing happens in companies, where company economic problems produce cost savings that one might have said could/should have been done before. This doesn't necessarily mean that the company problems are a good thing for the company.

Fri, May 17, 2013

While this is a good practice, it raises the question of why these ideas were ignored in the past. The more successful this type of thing is, the better the sequester looks. Cutting the budget becomes the only way improvements will be made.

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