Friday, September 19, 2008

TOP STORY > >Two-star general: Yes, we can

Leader staff writer

A personal shopping trip one evening to the post office, store and gas station turned into a personal “epiphany” for Maj. Gen. K.C. McClain that changed how she saw operations at the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, which she commands.

McClain was commander of the 314th Support Group at Little Rock Air Force Base from April 1997 to June 1998. She was the keynote speaker at the quarterly meeting of the Little Rock Air Force Base Community Council on Thursday. She shared about her “ah-ha” moment that has changed delivery of services at AFPC since she took command in January.

McClain realized that her purchases had all been completed with self-service technology and a credit card, without any human assistance. And her shopping was done off-hours, at a time convenient for her. It suddenly occurred to her that allowing AFPC personnel greater flexibility in when and where they completed assignments could lead to greater efficiencies at the center.

She saw that technology was the way to make that happen.

“Exploiting Web-based applications” is now letting workers take care of some tasks as it best fits their scheduling, not just 8 to 4, Monday through Friday,” McClain said. “The goal is to let them do the work when they want to and do it faster.”

“Leveraging of technology” is helping the AFPC respond to the demands of new responsibilities. Assignments and deployments were once managed at separate bases, but are now integrated at the AFPC at Randolph AFB. And, where the center once mainly functioned on the policy level, it has also taken on a job once handled by the 94 bases – processing each and every personnel change for 1.25 million Air Force personnel worldwide, including assignments, deployments, promotions, separations and retirements. The AFPC has about 2,200 military, civilian, and contract employees.

“Our job is to make sure that the bases have the right person with the right skills at the right time and right place,” McClain said.

In the 10 years since McClain served at LRAFB, there have been significant changes in personnel, she noted. The 10 percent reduction in active-duty personnel, from 365,000 to 328,000, underscores the importance of working smarter and faster.

“We have fewer resources and increasing demands,” she said.

Computer-based communications and processing of paperwork is proving to be faster and more efficient. But sometimes, talking to a fellow human is needed to resolve a problem. That is still an option.

“We still have a 24/7 contact center with an 800 number – you can still talk to a human,” McClain said.

Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz reported to the council that he is “cautiously optimistic that we will have a closed deal by the end of the year” and a new owner-operator for base housing will be ready to get to work.

That comment drew friendly laughter from some in the audience. The difficult process of ridding the base of the former owner-operator that defaulted on its oversight responsibilities and negotiating an agreement with a new firm has dragged on many more months than anticipated.

The performance of the former manager, American Eagle, was so egregious, in fact, that it caused ripples up the military chain of command last year and caught the attention of congressional leaders.

Schatz says that the prospective new owner-operator “has a proven track record” and “are anxious to get in here and get construction going to improve the quality of life for airmen.”

After the terms of agreement are settled with the new company, it must be approved at several levels of the military and federal government.

Another project that’s bogged down in bureaucracy is the base education center, but Schatz said “the right decision makers are involved” to get the plan approved.

His office sent off the necessary paperwork back in April to Randolph AFB; it was shipped to Washington in July.

Sen. Mark Pryor told The Leader on Thursday, “American Eagle has shown our community first-hand the results of poor oversight and decision-making regarding military housing contracts.

Rows of cement floors and unfinished housing stand where there should be top-quality housing for airmen and women and their families.

“Last year, I advanced an investigation into how and why this fiasco could occur, and this year we’re establishing the necessary requirements to prevent similar problems in the future.”