Commander's Forum: Maintaining Mission Focus in Tough Budgetary Times

  • Published
  • By Mark Crawford
  • 773rd Test Squadron director
Has anyone mentioned to you that the Air Force Flight Test Center budget might be getting tighter? Only a hundred times, right? We've all heard that government funding is getting tight. Heck, they came within a half hour of shutting down the most powerful government in the world because of it a few weeks ago!

We are in tough fiscal times. Does that mean we should let up on the quality of Defense Department Weapon Systems that we are sending to the field because we are worried that later this year or next we may "be low on money?" No, we absolutely cannot! An adversary of our way of life might be looking for weakness in our armor caused by less attention to detail in our acquisition process!

We, as Department of Defense employees entrusted with providing the brave men and women around the world defending our nation's way of life, need to understand the nature of our environment and do everything we can to maintain a high level of effectiveness in developing and acquiring quality weapon systems.

Have you noticed that our program office customers might seem to be just a little more on edge these days - not happy with our cost estimates, not happy with the time that we propose the evaluations will take? That's because they are being squeezed to do "more with less."

They have a difficult job. There is less available funding to support the acquisition process and those good people in the program offices are at the pointy end of the spear trying to maintain that high level of quality, while meeting the warfighters' needs. It becomes easy to feel like those folks just don't get it when they are pressing us for lower estimates and compressed schedules.

The reality is they do get it and are just as frustrated as we are, given that they too want to provide the best products possible. Many times our frustration is exacerbated by the fact that the program office may not have the level of experience we do to make the technical trade-offs associated with risk management on a system.

These are exactly the reasons why it is so important for us to strive to do everything we can to help our program office customers out. It is crucial for us to be perceived as team players. We absolutely are. You know it and I know it, but sometimes in our zeal to do the "right thing" (Or was that the Right Stuff?) we lose sight of our customer's constraints.

We need to be sympathetic to their situation, provide options that will accomplish their objectives in the most efficient manner possible and give them the right answers to make their critical acquisition decisions. We are the experts in flight test. We need to be open and descriptive as team members so that our customers understand their options. In these tough budgetary times we have to be creative in our common mission: to figure out safe, effective ways to minimize the cost and time to get answers to the program offices.

One example of the areas we still have room to grow is in the area of statistical methods. The center is putting great effort into maximizing the value of the data that we collect through the use of these tools. There are a lot of smart people on our team and together we can be a big help to our customers in the program offices. In addition to making sure these systems work, purely from a technical point of view, we have the opportunity to help optimize their effectiveness for use in combat through our development of the "man/machine interface," which minimizes associated workload in an ever increasingly complex environment for the warfighters. We are improving the utility, whether they are F-22 cockpits, or unmanned aerial vehicle control stations, or maintenance equipment.

One last thought on our situation dealing with tightening budgets... I can remember leadership throughout my career at Edwards grousing about the latest budget cuts and fallouts associated with them. The situation we are in is not new or unique to us. As good stewards of the taxpayers' money we should always be concerned about doing our work every day in the most efficient, effective manner while maintaining our high standards for safety. After all, our friends and co-workers are operating those systems and we need to get them all home at the end of the day to their families.

Through these challenges it is essential to remember why we came here, that this is still the best job in the world and a great place to work. Our mission of supporting the warfighters while optimizing the use of taxpayer dollars in system acquisition is a noble, important one and it takes all of us working together as a team to "Get 'er done!" We can be very proud of our part in the acquisition process and remain focused on the mission in these times of tight budgets.

On top of all that we get to play with some very cool "toys" and be a part of the latest in aircraft technology advances!

It doesn't get any better than this!