Money matters: rethinking the way we spend

by Master Sgt. Amanda Callahan
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

In today’s fiscal climate, the decisions made by those who plan and make purchases have a profound effect on the mission. While it may be tempting for resource advisors, government purchase card approving officials and card holders to continue budgeting as they have in past years, managers need to look beyond the status quo to actions benefiting the wing and the Air Force.

“Government spending is under close scrutiny to ensure the application of fiscal resources is making the most efficient and effective impact on mission accomplishment,” said Brig. Gen. Patrick X. Mordente, 86th Airlift Wing commander. “We owe it to our country, and more importantly, to the American people, to be exemplary stewards of taxpayer money. Every dollar must be thoroughly analyzed to ensure we’re making good choices to sustain our mission.”

As it turns out, to make good choices, those who control spending can change how they think. In turn, to change the thinking, the culture of the Air Force is changing. The days of oak desks and new office chairs are limited to actual need, as opposed to what one may think will suit the décor best.

“In the past, you’ve had two mind-sets,” said Lt. Col. Erik Dunn, 86th Comptroller Squadron commander. “The ‘need-to-haves’ and the ‘nice-to-haves’; we have to change that way of thinking. We’re furloughing civilians, we’re grounding aircraft and curbing mission critical training. Every dollar counts.”

Courtesy graphic
Courtesy graphic

To bring the issue into perspective, one has to determine the actual requirements — what it truly takes to sustain the mission versus what would simply make things comfortable.

While it seems simple, for years the mentality within budget circles has been, “spend it this year or lose it next year.” To combat the issue of improperly using funds, the perception had to change.

“We’ve come a long way in that regard,” said Dunn. “I can speak to the progress made in the 86th Airlift Wing and the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing toward eliminating the apprehension to give up funds. I’ve seen phenomenal camaraderie between squadron and group commanders to focus on meeting mission requirements. I’ve indicated to the commanders (the 86th CPTS) will look at next year’s requirements with the same eye as we did in the past. Those units who don’t spend all of their allotted funds will not be penalized for keeping the mission a priority.”

While commanders worked to conquer the mindset, there may still be resource managers at the unit level who have a difficult time adjusting the way they do business. After years of protecting the next year’s money by spending all of this year’s dollars, it may take a bit more to convince them the next fiscal year won’t suffer based on the spending done this year.

“Under sequestration, we’ve felt a definite mission impact and an impact on our work force, especially our civilian work force,” said Dunn. “With talks of continued downsizing in future years, it’s vital we create the right perception. If we use our funds on things we don’t truly need for the mission, we’ve caused our own problems; we can’t blame sequestration for our bad decisions.”

To help combat some of the issues of over- or inappropriate spending, planners should be aware of how much of something they already have. Having too much of an item isn’t a fail-safe for mission  effectiveness; it can reduce the effectiveness of the budgeting for the wing as a whole.

“For one, if you make a GPC purchase and need to return it, it’s more complicated than returning personal items,” Dunn said. “The money used to purchase excess supplies could go toward true mission requirements.”

For example, if a work center purchased 100 toner cartridges in expectation of needing them throughout the following fiscal year, but the printer is replaced with one using different toner, the initial purchase now equates to wasted funds that could’ve been used to purchase mission-essential equipment in a maintenance or operational shop.

Additionally, federal law mandates work centers only maintain a certain level of stock based on the mission of their work center. The Bono Fide Need rule defines how much of an item an organization can keep to sustain its mission.

For example, Dunn explained, civil engineers must keep a stock of salt for deicing, because snowfall is unpredictable. They have to have enough salt on hand to perform road clearing operations. However, this doesn’t allow for them to stock enough salt to sustain the mission through the next fiscal year.

“Use the resources on base,” said Dunn. “The best example of Airman initiatives I’ve seen was the supplies list where units publicly state what they had and no longer needed in order for other units to use as opposed to making additional, unneeded purchases.”

The supply-sharing initiative saved the wing nearly $50,000 in supply funds, leading Dunn to make the observation, “It’s been a great fiscal year. We’ve seen a lot of great ideas and a huge effort to cut spending and focus on true mission requirements. I believe we truly exemplify the way ahead for smart budgeting and mission-focused spending.”

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