Lean thinking about the budget

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Loren Graham
  • 729th Air Mobility Squadron commander
The annual budget is a top problem facing our Air Force. The problem is simply solved: spend less. Sounds easy, right? If it is so easy to fix, then why does it remain a top Air Force issue?

It is my humble belief that common budgetary processes at all levels drive both good and bad behaviors making this problem so difficult to solve. Let's focus on unit and wing processes and how formal and informal unit processes exacerbate our Air Force's fiscal problems. Additionally, I recommend some simple actions that every Airman can take to save the Air Force money.

Take for example the concept that we've all heard when discussing funding, "If you don't spend it this year, you won't get it next year." That saying may or may not be true, but it does drive the end-of-year purchasing behavior of assets such as new furniture, massive amounts of printer toner, office supplies and paper. I believe that most end-of-year unit purchases are approved in a rush during a torrent of spending. Once every dollar is spent, the unit pats itself on the back for another end-of-year well-done.

In fact, units that are able to spend quickly, often receive additional funds (formal process) prior to the end-of-year in order to make sure that every drop of taxpayer dollars is expended. This cycle leaves behind over-stuffed supply closets exploding at the seams with excess products. Is this a unit trying to save money? Does this sound like your unit?

Okay, maybe some of you have not had the opportunity to watch a unit close out a budget. Let's look at it from a day-to-day, squadron-level view. Do simple squadron processes drive poor spending behavior?

How many times in your career have you been offered a new Gortex jacket or cold weather gear when in-processing a new unit? Or, how many pairs of government-furnished boots do you have in your closet that you may never wear? Had I taken the jacket each time it was offered to me during a PCS, I would have cost the Air Force well over $2,000. Multiply that cost by the total number of Airmen, and you can see how the cost-to-taxpayers could be well into the millions of dollars for jackets alone. This common practice is one of many at the unit level that ultimately cost the Air Force unnecessary funds.

So you might be asking yourself, what can I do to help? I've come to believe in five simple steps that promote more responsible spending behaviors.

First, know what purchases are absolutely critical to your section or unit's success. Ensure you are able to procure those assets as mission effectiveness is the top priority.

Second, get acquainted with the formal and informal processes that drive purchases and understand how these processes drive good and bad fiscal behavior.

Third, discourage hoarding tendencies, a bad fiscal behavior, through streamlined and increased procurement and accounting cycles.

Fourth and perhaps most importantly, frequently walk through every work center that you are in charge of and put eyes on the resources that are being stored, used or unused. Finally, break down barriers that discourage sharing within your unit, group or wing and work to re-direct assets to ensure the readiness of mission critical capabilities.

Remember, every Airman plays a part in tackling one of the Air Force's priorities: fiscal responsibility. I challenge every commander, superintendent, flight chief, supervisor and Airman to set the fiscal tone at the unit level through analysis and adjustments of the formal and informal unit processes. Focus on the processes that you control and improve them.

Don't forget to "Lean" on your unit AFSO21 representative as your process review and analysis expert. Disciplined spending starts with you and affects today's Airman and the future of our Air Force.

So put your best foot forward and save where you can.