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NEWS | July 6, 2015

Leadership in a time of austerity

By Lt. Col. Patrick Farrell 16th Airlift Squadron commander

The financial crisis of the late 2000's created a political environment that allowed for significant cuts to Federal Government spending.  The Budget Control Act of 2011, commonly known as sequestration, spread more than $900 billion worth of cuts equally between domestic and defense spending over 10 years.  The cuts were designed to be "across-the-board" with no room for discretion in which programs would be cut.  The intent was for the cuts to be so painful and destructive that Congress would have no choice but to refine them before implementation through the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Unfortunately, the committee was unable to agree on changes and the full sequester was implemented for Fiscal Year 2013 with, as many of us remember, significant negative impacts.  As a result, Congress passed changes for 2014 and 2015 (the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013) which made the past two years less painful.  However, those changes run out on 30 September 2015.Then we will be back under full sequester again.

What does this mean for us at Joint Base Charleston?  Essentially, buckle in for a bumpy ride. The sequester doesn't expire until 2024 (the two years of relief in 2014-2015 have been added to the end of the original 10 year period).  We just experienced our largest impact to date with the closure of the 17th Airlift Squadron.  Moving forward, expect less supplies, extremely low facility sustainment and restoration funding and disruptions to supply chains.  We should also expect TDY restrictions as well as continued initiatives to reduce costs on long-term TDYs.

So, how do we as Airmen operate in this environment?  Our only choice to retain our effectiveness is to increase our efficiency  and we must do all that we reasonably can to retain our effectiveness.  Please note that I said "reasonably can."  We shouldn't work 100 hours per week, get divorced or make our kids hate us to keep the same level of output that we had with more resources.  The nation has made a choice to decrease our funding and with that comes consequences. 

We should, however, do whatever we reasonably can to keep those consequences from leading to injuries and fatalities.  Too many Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in harm's way depend on us delivering supplies, munitions and equipment.  While sequestration may cause increased attrition and casualties in current and future conflicts, we must do what we can to prevent that outcome.

I would argue that the best path to achieving that goal  begins with the Commander's Inspection Program, continues through Management Internal Controls Toolkit checklists  leading to process improvement events (8-steps and more).  The CCIP should function as a tool for you to support your commander just as much as it is for your commander leading her/his organization. 

Use MICT checklist compliance to advocate for a process improvement event in your work area making your duties easier and less time consuming.  Rather than perform every function at 70 percent, decide what you can stop doing (even if it's "required") and let your leadership know you need to focus resources on safety and mission accomplishment. Some of the ancillary requirements need to flex.  Then staff up a change request to the owner of the AFI, job guide or checklist to remove or reduce non-value added requirements.  Perhaps you'll decide to do some required items that don't impact safety or mission accomplishment at 30 percent to stay minimally compliant. Then document in MICT that you are intentionally showing minimally compliant.  However you decide to do it, it'll be a difficult decision. However, it will be better than letting everything slip by the same percentage.

The return of the Budget Control Act will be a true test of leadership.  Regardless of your rank, we need you to lead - lead-up, lead-down and lead-across your peer-level.  It's easy to succeed when resources are flowing freely.  It's difficult to succeed when resources are constrained.  This will be an opportunity to shine.  Don't let this crisis go to waste. This is an opportunity to change for the better by becoming more efficient; retaining as much effectiveness as possible while supporting our brothers and sisters-in-arms.