Leadership Lessons: The inspection process is changing

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Aaron Bass
  • 319th Air Base Wing Inspector General
Inspection! The word is nearly inseparable from military service. From the constant inspections during initial training, to the mythos of black-hatted MAJCOM agents-of-doom descending upon the base for wing inspections, it is inextricably woven into our military experience. But something interesting has happened. The Air Force has realized there's a better way to do it.

My inspector experience began more than six years ago on the Air Force Space Command Inspector General Team. From there, I took a job leading inspections for the 21st Operations Group, followed by a two year assignment with the Air Force Inspection Agency. It's safe to say that I've seen my fair share of inspections. Looking back, I can identify some specific examples of the dysfunction in the legacy inspection system.

As inspection team chief, I carried the responsibility of standing in front of units to deliver both good and bad news. On one particular occasion I found myself once again standing face-to-face with an entire operations squadron for an inspection outbrief. Over the preceding week, my team had delved deeply into the operations, practices, paperwork, and capabilities of the unit. I had been in similar situations on many occasions, but this particular day was weighed down by the news I had to deliver.

The squadron was a proud unit, with unique capabilities, and good reason to brag. They brought significant value to our military, and enjoyed praise from high-level leadership. They were loud in their proclamations of excellence. However, this overly confident attitude helped them overlook some critical aspects of their mission, including training. They focused upon their strengths, and neglected the less-glamorous tasks, such as making sure everyone remained current on mission training. My inspectors were rigorous, and detected significant mission risk from what we now call "undetected non-compliance." The unit had not detected that they were failing to satisfy all of their training requirements. Upon analysis, we determined that the risk to mission was adequate to drive a lowered rating for the unit. It was this news that I had to deliver to the squadron.
Why did it take a visit from an outside agency for this otherwise extremely capable unit to learn about this undetected non-compliance? In this instance, the old inspection system must bear some blame. This squadron, like most Air Force units, had adopted the ebb and flow of readiness and effectiveness driven by infrequent inspections. When they knew the inspectors were coming, it was time to ramp up. When the inspectors left, it was time to relax and recover. The problem with this system was that it never really allowed units to find their stride. They were always oscillating between being ready for the mission and being ready for the inspection. Somewhere in all that churn, something got dropped.

The good news is that a new inspection system is upon us. This new system, which you will hear called the "New AFIS" (Air Force Inspection System), turns the old system upside down. No longer must we face massive external inspection teams and the painful ramp-up preceding their arrival. Instead, WE are now responsible for the vast majority of inspection activities. And those inspections will be low-threat, high-return affairs designed to uncover undetected non-compliance before it becomes a mission-impacting issue. We will be able to find our stride, avoiding the swings of readiness between inspections. How will we accomplish this? We will continually report our status of compliance using the self-assessment checklists in MICT. And we will establish our own Wing Inspection Team (WIT) to engage the wing in frequent, small-scale inspections for which we will avoid preparation. Our new approach will involve a constant self-evaluation to best understand our daily capabilities. Who will be on this inspection team? If you have previously been a member of the Exercise Evaluation Team, there is a reasonable chance you will be selected by your commander to become a member of the WIT.

Members of the WIT will find that being an inspector is a challenging opportunity, requiring a unique mindset and a highly critical eye. As a member of the WIT, you will have a huge impact on the base and will work for my office during inspections. The items you find will be recorded in databases and be reviewed by the AMC IG Team on a regular basis. In fact, they are already watching our activity to see how diligently we are inspecting ourselves. But here's the interesting part: we will be commended for finding and reporting problems! For many of you, this will be unbelievable, but it's true. The new system wants to see deficiencies as evidence that we are actively policing ourselves by finding problems, reporting them, and finally tracking them to closure, all within systems monitored by the MAJCOM IG Team.

So will we ever get a visit from the MAJCOM? Yes. The New AFIS defines a new type of inspection called the Unit Effectiveness Inspection (UEI). This inspection is largely focused upon inspecting our local Commander's Inspection Program (CCIP). The most direct route to receiving a grade of Ineffective on a UEI is to allow the MAJCOM IG to believe our CCIP is not accurate, adequate, or relevant. Our ability to stand up a rigorous and robust local inspection program will largely determine our grade on the UEI. If we implement a good CCIP, with a strong WIT, our wing is over half way to success on our next UEI.

This new inspection system is not coming. It is here. The AMC IG is already watching us virtually, assessing our ability to honestly and unabashedly identify our own issues. It is an exciting time to be in the Air Force. As we move into full implementation of our local CCIP, I ask that you take extra time on your MICT checklists and support your peers when they inspect you. Remember, it is only through identifying our own issues honestly and completely that we will be assessed well by the MAJCOM. In the end, identifying and proactively fixing our own problems is the best way to ensure our Air Force remains the best Air, Space, and Cyberspace force this planet has ever known.