Leadership Lessons: Why are we wasting all this money?

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Too often I hear this question, but when I ask for specifics most responses refer to the amount of dollars being spent and not what is being purchased. The assumption is "it's the end of the year and there's money to spend, spend it no matter what". As the base Comptroller, I can tell you it's just not that easy.

The Air Force, like the rest of the Department of Defense, is subject to an annual appropriation or budget controlled by Congress. Unfortunately, for the last several years and the foreseeable future, this means beginning each year under spending limitations, better known as Continuing Resolution Authority or CRA. CRA limits spending for at least the first three months of a fiscal year. Our base, like every other base and Air Force major command has a corporate process for determining budget levels at the beginning of every year based on guidance from higher headquarters. Once determined, each unit provides analysis of what they won't be able to accomplish, where they're taking risk, and the forecasted mission impact. This review drives the base's Unfunded Requirement Drill, which gets vetted at the MAJCOM and possibly at the Air Staff depending on the requirement, shortfall, or mission impact. More recently, we've also had to deal with deep cuts caused by sequestration which has further stressed the budget process and the amount of scrutiny placed on requirements.

So we begin each year with limited resources, but we still have a mission to accomplish. Thanks to outstanding Airmen, immediate mission impact is minimized. However, operating without proper resource levels takes a toll on our bench stock, our ability to respond to infrastructure needs in a timely manner, properly equip new personnel, send personnel to training at the right time, and make procurements efficiently (economy of scale, repetitive requisitions, etc.). Additionally, end-of-year spending places a significant burden on comptrollers, contracting personnel, resource advisors and is without a doubt not a well-drawn up game plan. However, it's a fact of life given the fiscal environment we operate in.

So back to the original point, do we waste money at end of year? While it would be hard to say with 100 percent certainty no money is wasted, I can say the personnel responsible for executing said funds are determined to make every dollar count. There is a very focused, deliberate, and planned strategy that plays out to ensure we eliminate risk taken earlier in the year, prepare for the next year as best as possible, and procure force multipliers that enhance mission accomplishment. A great example of this is the $850,000 enhancement to our Integrated Base Defense Security System, which gives our Defenders an added layer of anti-terrorism protection for the base. Procuring this system would have never been possible at the beginning of the year, and is the result of the entire Resource Management Team tirelessly preparing, advocating, and defending unit requirements.

As stewards of taxpayer dollars and resources, each of us has a role to play. If you feel your unit is wasting money, you have a responsibility to identify that to your supervision and squadron commander. If you see it, ask the question. You'll either highlight and stop wasteful spending and get a really cool EPR bullet out of it, or you'll become better informed into your squadron's requirements, strategy, and risk mitigation efforts.