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Commentary | March 13, 2012

Base operations in a lean budget environment

By Lt. Col. Chris Wegner 633rd Contracting Squadron

If you're like me and have been watching the news in the last six months, you've probably heard the Air Force is facing some significant budget reductions for at least the next several fiscal years. What's the driving force behind those reductions and what does that mean to base operations at Joint Base Langley-Eustis?

In the rollout of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, the Air Force Budget Office depicts a fiscal environment in which the national deficit and debt problems are risks to our national security. Through the Budget Control Act, the Department of Defense is mandated to do its part in debt reduction by achieving a $487 billion cut to the budget over the next 10 years.

Historically, most of us haven't typically dealt with the realities of fluctuating budgets. Reductions in the past have been absorbed through cost-cutting measures "above our pay grade." Things like adjustments in major weapon systems procurement, curtailing modernization programs, or realignment of missions and infrastructure have been the targets of past reductions. Or, better yet, we've lived in an era of increasing budget baselines. Well, I have news. The realities of a declining budget are coming soon to an Air Force base near you.

To achieve a focus on cost reductions through more efficient operations, the Air Force for the coming fiscal year is proposing a $700 million reduction in the Operations and Maintenance budget associated with installation support, facility sustainment, restoration and modernization. As you're likely aware, those are the dollars funding basic services and capabilities such as grounds maintenance, refuse collection, custodial services, elevator maintenance, dorm washer/dryer lease, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning maintenance, work order supplies, dining facility operations, library services, fitness center operations, facility repairs/improvements, and the list goes on.

So maybe you're asking yourself, why is a contracting officer concerned about opining on such matters? Well, mainly because the activities described in the preceding paragraph are predominantly provided through contracted operations. Before I completely spook the herd, I must say not all of those listed activities will be targeted for immediate reductions or elimination. Those decisions are yet to be determined by our base, major command, and in some cases, Air Force leadership. The savings have to come from somewhere though, and you can expect to see a reduced level of contracted services in some areas.

As a contracting officer, I'm concerned about those adjustments because our natural tendencies are to "help" the mission, possibly by directing (inappropriately) the contractor to alter their service. By doing so, we either alleviate a vendor of the responsibility of performing work they're being paid to accomplish, or we run the risk of reducing the services received without achieving any monetary savings. In due time, those adjustments will be properly made through a customer request to alter or eliminate the service, followed by formal direction to the vendor from Contracting.

As a squadron commander, I'm concerned about those adjustments because in most cases, the work will still need to be performed. If not paid for through contracts, then I know the tasks will likely fall back on our Airmen and Soldiers, who are already stretched thin and fully employed in their primary duties.

However, I have the utmost confidence we will rise to the challenge, and perform up to our immense professional standards. After all, I can (and will) gladly sweep the floors, remove my trash and occasionally mow the grass, in order to keep our scarce dollars focused on force structure, readiness, and modernization. Oh, and don't forget to turn the light off. Every dollar saved matters.