Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz confirmed it last week. In a Pentagon press release, Schwartz said AFMC, the Air Force’s largest employer of civilians, was being considered for restructuring.
“The new structure will focus on reducing overhead costs and redundant layers of management while largely protecting the command’s rank and file workforce,” he noted.
Schwartz added that, “We will need to reduce overhead and consolidate wherever possible to meet budget targets. We will have to make difficult choices.”
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Ron Smith is not surprised that AFMC – and by extension Robins – is being targeted as officials seek to preserve military capability amid extensive budget cuts.
The command employs 39 percent – more than 85,000 – of the Air Force’s civilian workers. It also managed about $60 billion in assets during fiscal year 2011, roughly 40 percent of the Air Force budget. The AFMC structure has three logistics centers, including the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins. The lineup also offers three product, two test and three specialized centers in addition to a major research and development laboratory.
“I applaud the fact that they are going after overhead,” Smith, a former Warner Robins ALC commander, wrote in an e-mailed response to The Patriot. “I assume their new proposed constructs are based on some business case and risk analysis and not on some construct that looks good on paper but fails to ensure core competences will not deteriorate.”
Smith said it is naïve to think Robins will be exempt. “The trick will be to achieve efficiencies and savings that will not have unintended impacts on readiness, sustainability and cost of current and future systems,” he related.
George Falldine for many years was the director of plans and programs for Warner Robins ALC. He’s now a consultant for agencies assisting the Air Force in charting a course for the future. Falldine said he’s sure AFMC will be a major focal point because logistics is such a huge piece of the operations and maintenance share of the budget.
“I fully expect significant restructuring that will get as much command structure and overhead out as possible,” he noted during a telephone interview.
The command has looked at a number of possibilities over the years, including the elimination of two-star positions at the various centers. That plan met significant congressional headwind and was shelved.
“Yet in reality, the existing logistic and product center command structure was created back in the 1960s,” Falldine pointed out. “So a lot of changes have taken place that argue for restructuring anyway. It’s politics that have prevented (AFMC) from doing some things they would have liked to do.”
But the budget crunch changes much of that. “With all the efficiency pressures, it will be hard to fight for ‘stars in my district,’” he said. "General officer and senior civilian positions at logistics and product centers are likely to be jeopardized."
Mike O’Hara, retired former director of civilian personnel at Robins, agrees that AFMC must play a significant role in the coming budget reductions. His hope is that any resulting consolidations will not damage core capabilities. In his view, recent supply chain management and human resources management consolidations have not been helpful.
“In both cases, the results have adversely impacted production areas within the air logistics center,” O’Hara stressed. “Consequently, I hope that any (proposed) realignments are reviewed by several sets of expert eyes and fully vetted by the affected congressional delegations in advance of a decision.”
The timing for major organizational shifts appears imminent. Two factors support that conclusion. First, defense officials have said they plan to provide detailed guidance to a congressional “super committee” before the committee makes its cost-cutting recommendations on Nov. 23. Also, inputs to the program objectives memorandum process are likely due before the end of the year. The cost-cutting actions likely will begin in fiscal year 2012 and pick up steam in 2013.
Falldine’s guess is that concrete proposals will emerge by the end of October. “I’ve heard that contractors in Dayton (Ohio) have been told to expect something by the end of the month,” he said. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, site of AFMC headquarters, is located in Dayton.
The Schwartz statement said Air Force officials were also looking at less costly ways of providing essential services for airmen and their families through taking greater advantage of off-base options.
“For example,” Schwartz was quoted in last week’s statement, “some services commonly available on (military) installations not financially viable or not often used may be consolidated or closed in order to redirect resources to other places where airmen and family needs are greater.”
Smith called that a time-sensitive opportunity for local communities to play a pivotal role in reducing the cost of operating Robins AFB.
“It will take a joint effort of base and community leaders to identify those targets and get on with implementing them,” he said. “But time is of the essence.”
He said the right ingredients are available both on and off the base.
“We can be the benchmark,” Smith indicated, “we just need to bump up our efforts. This is not an option nor do we have a long time to figure out if ‘breathing is good.’”