Monday, April 7, 2014

Transparency in the little things

Anyone who has gone TDY to Groton, CT likely knows about the Groton Chalet Hotel.  It's infamous for all the wrong reasons.  The rooms lack any sort of amenities, the staff is consistently rude, and the hotel charges significantly more than the nearby Navy Gateway Inn and Suites.  With all these problems, why would the Navy continue to pay more for a crappy hotel?

Simple...some idiot signed a contract that we now can't get out of, and the military is being milked for money.  Your taxpayer dollars hard at work.

Sadly, there are thousands of examples like this one.  A similar Chalet setup exists in Newport, RI.  The Navy isn't the only one getting hosed.  At Fort Gordon, the Army signed a contract stating it would not have a bus service on base, but it would allow taxis on base.  Yellow Cab makes a killing off of shuttling troops all over post.  All this, despite bus stops having already been built on base.  Not only are the soldiers (and the tenant units from other services, including around 1400 Sailors) getting screwed, but we're contributing to congestion and smog by having additional vehicles on the road.

Transparency goes a long way, but what I find is that we get wrapped up on the big things.  I've been told before that the savings would only be in the thousands of dollars and would equate to a rounding error.  This is completely at odds with how we tackle others problems in the military, and anyone saying such words should be immediately denigrated for doing so.

Let's take sexual assault, since it's in the news.  Do you stop sexual assault by sending roving patrols throughout the barracks rooms and out in town?  You can try, but the reality is that if someone is in the act of assaulting someone else, you're almost always going to be too late to stop it.  You attack the problem by "getting to the left," by finding the warning signs and tackling issues when they are small.  If you are openly creating an environment at work and home that respects individuals, including their choices about having sex, then you're going to be much more successful stopping assaults before they happen.

And yet, we don't do that with finances.  The first thing we cut is a travel budget, and yet we don't cut supply budgets.  So we wind up with lots of supply money at the end of the year, leading us to stock up for a rainy day, but our personnel can't attend mandatory training, leading us to flop and twitch later that year in meeting requirements.  But we tolerate the Chalet stealing our TDY money, so that we can hear the excuses from our finance folks that we can't travel because it's too expensive.

Total setup for failure.  The Navy would do well to save money by firing more than a few of our decrepit employees (mostly civilian, but also a few military) that give us this line.  Thousands saved in various places adds up to millions we can devote to other projects.  It's called math, and it works.

How would I fix it? How about this for a start:

- Abolish long term contracts that aren't acquisition related. Why are we signing 5 and 10 year deals on hotels when we know that lodging rates change and competition could come in later?  And why do these contracts never reference a quality of service?  Long term deals make sense when you buy hundreds of aircraft or weapons, but not lodging, meals, or rental cars.  The military is NOT in the lodging or rental car business...give that to industry.

- Use our supply budget to eliminate training travel.  With all the VTC technology we have, why on earth does the Navy make us send people to SAPR, Petty Officer Leadership, GMT, and a host of other training events that involve sitting in a classroom at only one or two locations in the country.  Require these places to build unclassified VTC training labs and build such labs at our large commands.  Heck, build them at the reserve centers too.  Then we can put people on no-cost TDY orders to attend training.  Some training can't be done this way, but a lot of it can and should.

- Stop using budget tricks to save money and invest long term.  Why does base housing in Georgia and Hawaii not have solar cells?  Not only would the government get their money back in 5 years, it would provide a buffer in the future to rising energy costs.  Heck, at Souda Bay, Greece, the base installed solar cells over their carports for exactly that reason.  Yet we wasted millions on bio fuels while charging base residents for electrical usage

There is no reason that industry shouldn't make a profit from government contracts, but profit doesn't mean the government, and especially our Sailors, get screwed.