It has been said that no one can accurately predict where the U.S. military will need to respond next: the workload and requirements are uncertain. Nearly as unpredictable is the future of the nation’s finances. With much talk of the fiscal cliff in the news recently, how quickly can the U.S. economy recover, and what will happen to the global economy?
After Social Security, Defense is the largest component of the nation’s $3.8 trillion budget in 2013, so Defense will always be influenced by the overall financial situation. The Secretary of Defense noted, “The most immediate threat to our ability to achieve our mission is fiscal uncertainty, not knowing what our budget will be, not knowing if our budget will be drastically cut, and not knowing whether the strategy that we’ve put in place can survive.”
Even at base level, our ability to continue to execute our mission with excellence is directly related to how we manage our precious resources. While it is clear we will have fewer resources available in the future, it becomes absolutely paramount that we use those resources wisely without a penny to waste. We must develop warriors who help change our organization from a culture that values spending every dollar to one that values cost awareness and best value.
In other words, there currently exists an overemphasis on securing funding versus managing funding. Moving forward, we’ve been challenged by our government and our nation to better manage funding. Meeting that challenge starts with a mindset that the financial community calls a “Tone at the Top,” characterized by a commitment towards openness, honesty, integrity and ethical behavior. Setting that tone is the catalyst of fiscal responsibility required at all levels of Air Force leadership, and is enforceable by every Airman.
When implemented successfully, we begin to ask how much we need rather than how much funding we can get. A culture of savings and restraint is built on the idea that reducing costs is a permanent, unwavering commitment, not a reaction to the latest financial crisis.
So, it might seem like hard work to implement and maintain a focused program on fiscal responsibility because many of us in the Air Force have never had to operate in an environment of real budget reductions. Those who have been through the experience must teach the future warriors how to navigate through this new set of challenges.
Additionally, each of us already has the tools required to make a difference. Those tools are our powers of observation and a willingness to question the costs of the things we observe.
For example, needlessly duplicating what another unit, program or department buys doesn’t have to be the default answer. Consider it your duty to question why things are needed, know your programs to understand the context of its cost, and entertain the notion that there might be a cost effective alternative. The goal is to maximize return on investment. Examples of fiscal responsibility are out there, from challenging Air Force instructions to gain efficiencies in services to developing unit-level travel policies, we have the opportunity to step up and help ourselves.
As leaders at all levels move into the future with an increased national and Air Force-level focus on fiscal responsibility, know that comptroller professionals are at your service. Our budget and financial management functions are fully equipped and trained to help units manage and execute well-planned, effective and responsible budgets.
So, set the “tone at the top” of your organization and embrace the fiscal challenges and opportunities ahead of us as an Air Force. With the right mindset and plan in place, fiscal responsibility and flexibility can truly go hand-in-hand.