Back to mission basics: accomplishment vs. enhancement

LAJES FIELD, Azores -- For far too long the phrase, "doing more with less" has dominated the Air Force's fiscal vocabulary. With sequestration taking full effect, the Department of Defense has implemented a $450 billion budget cut over the next 10 years, while reshaping its mission around the world. In fact, "doing less with less" is the mantra of a new operating environment for all of the service components, including the Air Force.

This statement isn't meant as a defeatist attitude or to discourage Airmen from excelling in all they do, but a call to reevaluate our operations and adapt to changing expectations.

Have fiscal expectations changed? Guaranteed.

So how do you "do less with less"? Get back to basics.

First and foremost, getting back to the mission basics is a step in the right direction. With sequestration and funding cuts to each wing's top line this fiscal year, this concept is critical. An essential task for every leader is to analyze what their unit's mission is - what the Air Force demands of a unit. It's time to re-visit what each unit is doing and why.

Over time, a unit's original mission often gets lost or grows unintentionally. Now is the time to ask some tough questions about this mission creep. Is the additional growth necessary? Was it once necessary, but is no longer? Has one unit duplicated the function of another? How much funding is exhausted by new mission requirements?

Air Force leaders must know the difference between activities and requirements that drive mission accomplishment and those that enhance mission accomplishment. It's all a matter of prioritization. In this fiscal environment, only those requirements that are critical to mission accomplishment should be ranked as high priorities. After all, units are getting less money and should be doing less, so prioritization is key.

Leaders can successfully execute a back to basics approach through consistent and clear communication of expectations, positioning Airmen to contribute to the most basic mission requirements. For example, not one, but two USAFE bases have already benefited from the efforts of a handful of Airmen operating with some back to basics guidance. In this instance, an Airman highlighted an excessive amount of individual protective equipment that could be transferred to another USAFE unit. That Airman was armed with two very important weapons: the technical knowledge to conduct an inventory, but more importantly, the understanding of the unit commander's vision to get "back to basics".

This situation's outcome: in only a few weeks, a container loaded with 5,122 pieces of equipment valued at $218,700 departed Lajes Field, Portugal, heading for its new home at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The shipping charge for the container was minute when compared to the cost of new equipment.

Finally, encourage others to rethink the way the Air Force does business and act on new ideas. Question assumptions and beliefs about spending, especially the "sacred cows" in each unit. Make the phrase, "but we've always done it this way," an unacceptable answer. Leadership's job is to identify the acceptable level of risk and to take action. In doing so, make it safe for people to take the designated level of risk, and reward and recognize those who do.

The Air Force has recently completed a call for cost saving ideas that was answered with good success. In fact, some units are setting up enduring web sites to collect these ideas. There are thousands of great ideas out there, and many Airmen's great ideas bloom into positive returns when acted on.

"Doing less with less" may be the new expectation the Air Force must adapt to, but doing less through getting back to basics goes a long way towards implementing the big changes we must make.