A new task force will start work next month on a 120-day review of all family and military community programs across the Defense Department to determine their effectiveness and identify gaps and potential efficiencies, a senior defense official said.
Charles E. Milam, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, will lead the Common Services Task Force at the request of Jessica Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, he told defense reporters here last week.
“The goals of the task force are to continue providing exceptional support to service members and their families as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Milam said, “and – this is a guiding principle for us – we expect to deliver the same or better level of programs and services.”
Task force members will include senior leaders at the one-star or Senior Executive Service level from each secretariat and service, he said, along with representation from the DOD comptroller’s office, the Pentagon cost assessment and program evaluation office, and the public affairs and legislative affairs offices.
The services independently have been looking at many of the same program issues, Milam added.
Last year, for example, the Military Family Readiness Council initiated an effectiveness review for 170 family programs that exist across the services, he said.
“What we’re looking at now (in that review) is building effectiveness measures on those programs (to see) which ones are effective, which ones are moving the needle, which ones have an impact,” the deputy assistant secretary explained.
In the meantime, he added, DOD officials decided they needed to look at the issue more holistically and across the department.
One driver of the task force’s review will be demographic, Milam said.
A majority of service members used to live on military installations, but now about 75 percent live in surrounding communities, he noted. “One of the concerns that we hear repeatedly on surveys is that our service members and their families aren’t aware of many of the programs being offered,” he said.
Milam said the review will look at every program under the portfolio of the Pentagon’s military community and family policy office. These include programs that serve children, teens and families, as well as those that address recreation, business and exceptional family members.
Recreation programs can address fitness and wellness, and business programs can include golf programs, bowling centers, outdoor recreation and community centers, he said.
To determine which programs work, Milam said the department will examine “feedback from military families [about] which programs reduce stress, which ones improve quality of life of our service members, and which ones reach our service members.”
The services all are doing similar things under the direction of DOD’s military community and family policy office, Milam said. “Whether there is redundancy in that or not, we’ll find out,” he added. “That’s what this is all about. There’s going to be a fact-gathering period where we’re going to look at all these programs to see what’s out there.”
Commissaries, military exchanges and the DOD Education Activity – which runs schools for children of military families – will not be part of the review, he added.
“This initiative is not related to any budget-cutting drill,” Milam clarified. “But when we go through this process, if we find efficiencies, which we possibly will, there are two pots of money we’re talking about.”
Nonappropriated funds are those generated at the local level through service members in buying and using services, he said. “Any savings that we generate there will go back to the installations to improve quality-of-life programs,” Milam said. For savings found in activities that operate with appropriated funds, he added, decisions will need to be made about what to do with those funds.
If gaps in family services are found during the review, Milam said, community partnerships may be an answer.
“If we find gaps, there’s going to have to be some collaboration with the communities,” he said. “We’re doing this already in our child development programs.”
For those programs, service members and their families can use nationally accredited child development programs outside the installation. They pay up to the maximum rate charged for on-base care at that local installation and are reimbursed the difference, he said.
“So there’s a model out there already where we’re using community services,” Milam said. “That’s not to say we don’t need child development programs on the installation. We need both.”
Parents want child care where they work or live, he noted. “But we also need to look at those other services,” he added. “Do we need to build more fitness centers or can we perhaps partner more? These are the things that we’re going to look at.”