Capitalizing on efficiencies

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Don Ohlemacher
  • 49th Civil Engineer Squadron commander
Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, recently remarked, "In the coming years, our Nation and our Air Force will face a budget environment unlike anything we have encountered in decades."

Mounting pressure to reduce defense spending has manifested itself in large programmatic cuts across the Air Force, forcing functional communities like civil engineering to transform the delivery of services at the base level. But as we struggle to define how to "do less with less," we need to capitalize on efficiencies that require little more than simple changes in our behavior.

One of the issues that I've been struggling with this year is how to absorb cuts and minimize mission impact to our "Big 3" service contracts. These contracts provide grounds maintenance, custodial services, and refuse collection and disposal.

Headquarters Air Combat Command is trying to define what services can be accomplished on the mere $9 million dollars planned for fiscal year 2013 - this figure represents a near 70 percent decrease from previous fiscal years' funding levels.

While I think that we will at least be able to afford grass cutting and bathroom-cleaning services, much of what we pay contractors to keep a high level of base appearance will be eliminated.

Despite this, I refuse to accept the thought that if the Air Force can't afford to pay the bills or increase our manpower, then we will just stop doing things because we are "too busy." The first behavioral change we need to make is to clean up after ourselves. If we clean up after ourselves, then we wouldn't have to pay for as much contracted services.

Have you ever seen a mess in your common break rooms (if not, take a look inside the microwave!) and wonder when the custodian is coming to clean it up? How about the paper towels on the floor in the bathrooms that didn't make it in the trash receptacles? My personal pet peeve is finding coffee spills on the floor that dried up awaiting the next mopping interval.

Here's another simple behavioral change that can have a big impact on base appearance: bag your trash and close the dumpster lid. If not, when the wind speeds up, it will blow the trash right out of the dumpster and across the base. I always stop and pick up trash when I see it, and it just amazes me to think 40 people probably walked right past that trash on the sidewalks in front of their own work center without picking it up.

I wonder how little trash I would find driving around base if we could replace those cheap government trash-can liners with Glad drawstring bags, just like many of us use in our own home.

By the way, trash dumpsters wouldn't be overflowing if we flattened our cardboard boxes and took them in for recycling. However, I've found the liners work just fine if I take the trash out before the can is overflowing when I am still able to tie the bag shut.

Did you know that we spend more than $8 million each year for electricity? Approximately half that money is spent on air conditioning in the summer months.

This month there are 10 days (that's a third of the month) that we aren't even at work to enjoy the cool in the workplace. We'll leave work Friday afternoon and let the air conditioning run continuously through the weekend, costing an unnecessary $1 million a year.

But those of us who pay our own utility bills are likely to set back the thermostat in our homes 10 degrees before leaving town for the weekend. So another simple behavior change is to conserve energy by setting back thermostats 10 degrees in our work places.

Lastly, think of all the stuff we like to accumulate and save. Cabinets with binders of "continuity" from four previous workers that no one has ever read; drawers filled up with the older model of telephones that were replaced three years ago; storerooms full of boxed files, old chairs, parts and pieces from 10 different office system furniture manufacturers. We have to stop being pack rats because we tend to justify the need for more space and furniture to house all the junk that was left behind from previous generations.

Capitalizing on the efficiencies is as simple as taking care of our base like it was our own home.

This is the first step that we need to take in absorbing the future budget cuts. The reality is that we can no longer afford many of the luxuries to which we've gotten accustomed.

General housekeeping of our facilities and the immediate areas around the buildings will become our responsibility. It doesn't take additional money or manpower... it just takes practicing the same simple behaviors we use at home.

All it takes is some individual pride of ownership for our base and for the Holloman community, and we are likely to feel no greater pain for absorbing some of the future budget cuts.