AFMC Reforms: Ready, Fire, Aim!

The New U.S. Air Force Strategy for Life Cycle Weapon Systems Management?

By The Honorable William C. (Bill) Anderson

*** The Honorable William C. (“Bill”) Anderson served as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics and the Air Force Senior Energy Executive under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.  The author can be contacted at CO2RCR@hotmail.com.

 

 The mission of the Air Force Materiel Command:
« Deliver war-winning expeditionary capabilities to the warfighter through development and transition of technology,
 professional acquisition management, exacting test and evaluation,
and world-class sustainment of all Air Force weapon systems.»
(Credit: www.afmc.af.mil)

11/10/11 – The global economy is in the tank.  Governments across the globe are struggling with high expenditures coupled with shrinking revenue flows.  Drastic measures are being taken or being vigorously debated aimed at bringing inflows and outflows back into balance…and the discussions are ugly.

The U.S. economy finds itself in a similar position, with efforts underway to develop a plan to radically reduce the cost of operating the Federal government.  The current cost/budget pressures in Washington will no doubt require substantial changes to the way the U.S. Air Force and all of the Services will operate in the future.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed this in recent comments, stating that defense spending “must and will be part of the solution”.

These pressures will effect military installations around the country, the communities that support those installations, along with the workers and their familie with hard decisions to be made that will ensure the ability to project power while living within the budgetary means of the new reality.  Recently, the U.S. Air Force announced a reorganization of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) with the stated purpose to increase efficiency and reduce costs.  However, the approach employed to develop the strategy and the proposed plan raises serious questions as to the efficacy of the process that yielded the plan that has recently been circulated. [1]

The current cost/budget pressures in Washington will no doubt require substantial changes to the way the U.S. Air Force and all of the Services will operate in the future.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed this in recent comments, stating that defense spending “must and will be part of the solution”. These pressures will effect military installations around the country, the communities that support those installations, along with the workers and their familie with hard decisions to be made that will ensure the ability to project power while living within the budgetary means of the new reality.  Recently, the U.S. Air Force announced a reorganization of Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) with the stated purpose to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Media coverage of the reorganization announcement has been relatively light…likely due to the fact that published reports on the proposal suggest minimal employment impact and with that impact concentrated at a handful of bases scattered across the country.

Facts/data on the proposal are limited at this point, due to a couple of significant factors.

  • First, the Air Force has stated to Members of Congress that no Business Case Analysis was conducted during the development of the proposal…shocking for a reorganization that will have far-reaching implications for weapon systems development, acquisition and sustainment.
  • Second, media sources indicate that the planning and analysis for this proposal was done in secret, with reports suggesting participants in the process were required to sign non-disclosure agreements…a curious requirement where something as risky as a major reorganization is being considered.  Such an endeavor screams for transparency…seeking as much knowledge and experience from those who have succeeded (and failed) with significant reorganizations.

Citing the current state of the U.S. fiscal environment, the Air Force briefing on the AFMC Center Reorganization states that DoD and the Air Force must find more efficient and effective ways of doing business.  This conclusion, of course, is pretty self-evident.

From that conclusion, the Air Force developed a set of headcount reductions focused on:

(1) only AFMC staff,

(2) no reduction in the number of bases (creating a peanut butter spread of the pain),

(3) maintaining a General Officer presence at AFMC bases, and

(4) achieving desired results with minimal or no relocation of personnel.

 

AFMC upcoming reorganization: Too static an approach ?
Photo Credit: Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, www.afmc.af.mil 

 

If efficiency and effectiveness were, in fact, the intended goals of the reorganization, one could likely expect that the proposed structure of the “to be” state would follow lessons learned from organizations who have earned notoriety in the efficiency world.

In general, efficiency is created by flattening organizations, moving decision-making closer to the point of operation, and co-locating suppliers with critical Air Force operations.

Now, there could be significant analysis in the hands of the Air Force that might lead to the conclusion that gaining efficiencies “by the book” is inapplicable in this situation.  However, since all analysis was done behind closed doors, it is impossible for an outsider to determine whether this situation is a true exception to best business practices that appear essentially universal in every other context.

The recently announced reorganization adds a layer between the AFMC commander and many of the operations and moves certain critical decisions away from the base where the work is done.  The general Rule of thumb is that such actions add bureaucracy, add staff positions to support additional headquarters operations (normally occurring as “creep” over time), and dramatically slow decisions and actions.  These are all results that are counter to the expressed outcomes from the reorganization.

 

The Challenge by the Numbers
The proposed reorganization is expected to save just over $100 million annually for the Air Force, which is not an inconsequential number.  However, based on the cost cutting challenge staring the Air Force in the face, this amount is irrelevant.

It is widely reported that DoD will be on the hook to deliver savings of $450 billion over the next ten year or $45 billion per year.  Let’s assume for a moment that the Air Force share of that bogey is under 25% (rather unlikely to be that low), the global air and space service will be presented with a $10 billion annual challenge.  The $100 million saved via the proposed reorganization represents 1% of the challenge coming down the road for the Air Force.

It is widely reported that DoD will be on the hook to deliver savings of $450 billion over the next ten year or $45 billion per year.

Based on the relative size of AFMC vis-à-vis the entire Air Force, its share of that bogey will be in the billions of dollars.  So, is the announced reorganization intended to cover AFMC’s contribution to the cost-out challenge?  This is unlikely, of course.

Is this recent announcement just a first and minor step to a much broader and deeper set of actions?  Seems pretty likely based on the challenges that lie ahead and raises significant issues of failure to notify Congress of significant realignment.

Or, is the announced reorganization totally disconnected with the effort that will begin shortly to achieve massive cost reductions?  If so, a lot of time, effort and money will go for naught as massive rework is done to meet the much more aggressive targets.  No matter which of the scenarios listed above, none makes much sense.  And the approach raises questions as to process and motivation related to the reorganization announcement.

 

A BRAC by any other name?
For decades, the U.S. military and Congress have worked under a construct known as Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) to close or realign military asset inventory.  BRAC was established to avoid political interference in the process, and to ensure thoughtful review of significant alterations in military basing.

Originally established under President Jimmy Carter as PL 95-82, BRAC required DoD to

(1) notify Congress when a base was a candidate for reduction or closure,

(2) prepare studies on strategic, environmental and local economic consequences of the actions, and

(3) wait 60 days for a Congressional response.

The proposed AFMC reorganization supposedly impacts a rather small number of civilian employees and no military personnel.  No bases are said to be effected.  So, no BRAC implications, right?

Well, as noted above, huge reorganizational efforts for all the Services are on the horizon and will likely have significant impacts on AFMC.  Has the AFMC proposed reorganization been done in a vacuum with no regard to future actions that might be necessary to meet cost pressures (unlikely) or is this just step one of what the Air Force leadership knows will be additional, more significant, actions?

If so, such actions would likely be significant enough to trigger the notification and analysis rigor required in BRAC.  With that as the reality of the situation, Congress clearly has a greater role in the process than has been afforded to them to date…and one would expect a backlash from Congressional members for being excluded from an active role in the process.

 

Business Planning as a Covert Operatio
The Obama Administration has pledged to provide transparency in the conduct of the business of Washington.  That approach is laudable politically but, of course, is only valuable if actions follow the words.

Often, transparency allows for a number of views and experiences to be gathered and thus improving the quality of decision-making.  Such would be the case in the major restructuring of an organization like the reorganization of Air Force Materiel Command.

Yet, on a decision that so desperately screams for data to ensure quality outcome, it has been reported that the Air Force worked this process in absolute secrecy and even requiring those with a “nose under the tent” to sign confidentially agreements.

The approach utilized to develop the AFMC reorganization plan has striking similarities to opaque processes we have seen before and ones that must be defended with justification that goes something like “we have to pass the bill so we can find out what’s in it”.

The approach utilized to develop the AFMC reorganization plan has striking similarities to opaque processes we have seen before and ones that must be defended with justification that goes something like “we have to pass the bill so we can find out what’s in it”.

Now, it might be argued that the secrecy could have been maintained to avoid needlessly upsetting effected employees until a final decision was made.  However, if that were the motivation, the November 1 announcement would have never been made.  The announcement is very light on specifics,  yet casting a wide net of concern as to the impact on workers at the three Air Force depots and at other AFMC operations across the country.

No doubt very tense times for many households in and around Warner Robbins, Oklahoma City and Ogden as families contemplate major disruptions to their lives that may be just around the corner…and until a few days ago, totally unexpected.  Our loyal Federal employees deserve better both in terms of the robustness of the decision-making process and in the clarity of the message heard by the families and the communities that so loyally support critical Air Force operations around the nation.

 

Cutting Corners Leads to Waste and Rework
One might expect that a significant reorganization of a military major command would follow significant analysis utilizing tried-and-true methodologies.  In fact, legislation and internal DoD/Air Force policy provide guidance as to proper procedures to follow in developing the data and the analysis to support a decision as significant as a major reorganization.

Let’s start with Congressional notification.  Members of the Congressional Delegations from Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah are already weighing in and complaining about the lack of transparency during the analysis and decision-making process.  Based on the media reports to date, this lack of transparency may have been motivated by the process (or lack thereof) employed as this proposal was being formulated.

Newspaper accounts document requests from Members of Congress to review the Business Case Analysis (BCA).  BCA is a standard methodology employed in making significant decisions within the military and upon which the restructuring decision was based.

A review of a BCA here appears impossible.  In a response to questions from Congress, the Air Force noted that no formal BCA was accomplished.  Rather, a “cost analysis” was accomplished indicating the proposal would reduce duplication, increase benefits and ensure core capabilities will be maintained.  Really…all from a “cost analysis”?

Pretty amazing that a bunch of numbers on a spreadsheet could provide the depth of view to reach the conclusions noted above.  Of course, a cost analysis does not provide that level of detail…and it is not intended to.  That’s what BCA’s are intended to do.

Without the BCA, critical data points necessary to make sound decisions are not yet available.

The Air Force states that its Strategic Basing Process (SBP) was used to select the three preferred locations to host the new “Centers”.  The SBP is a tested and stable process to make decisions of this type and follows a well-established set of steps to work towards a well-considered course of action. However, the Air Force admits to using an “expedited” process in this instance.  This expedited process is called for in simple, specialized or time sensitive situations.  The reorganization of a Major Command is obviously neither simple nor specialized.  This process is not even really time sensitive.

Air Force Materiel Command officials will restructure from 12 centers to five: the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M.; the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker AFB, Okla.; the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, both at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Credit: U.S. Air Force graphic

Air Force Materiel Command officials will restructure from 12 centers to five: the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, N.M.; the Air Force Sustainment Center at Tinker AFB, Okla.; the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, both at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. Credit: U.S. Air Force graphic

 

The Air Force states that its Strategic Basing Process (SBP) was used to select the three preferred locations to host the new “Centers”.  The SBP is a tested and stable process to make decisions of this type and follows a well-established set of steps to work towards a well-considered course of action. However, the Air Force admits to using an “expedited” process in this instance.  This expedited process is called for in simple, specialized or time sensitive situations.  The reorganization of a Major Command is obviously neither simple nor specialized.  This process is not even really time sensitive.

 

As noted above, DoD will be engaged in significant restructuring in the coming months to meet the new budget realities.  This effort could easily be folded into the larger effort and likely be done much more effectively in the context of the broader effort that is coming down the pike.

 

 

The Bottom Line
If done in an expedited or rushed manner, critical mistakes can and (as history has proven) will be made.  The dollars available for national defense are going to shrink…that is a given.

Unfortunately, the Air Force mission will not shrink proportionately…also, a given.

We are looking at massive muscle movements ahead to cost effectively defend the American people and U.S. interests abroad.  Meeting the challenge will require significant out-of-the-box thinking, culture change and gathering ideas from all points of view to drive thoughtful decision making.

Skipping steps, secrecy and expedited processes pretty much guarantee big mistakes will be made.

The result?  Mission capability will suffer and someone down the line is going to have to repair the damage…driving expensive and time-consuming rework.  Aggressive and confident leadership knows when detailed and comprehensive analysis is needed and when best practices from all sources need to be sought and considered.  This is exactly one of those times…isn’t it?


 

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[1] http://www.afmc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123278315 ; http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2011/11/ap-air-force-9000-civilian-jobs-cut-110211/

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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