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Strategic Human Resource Management: Usaf

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Autor:  anton  01 May 2011
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Human Resource Strategic Planning in the Air Force: Force Reduction

Human Resource Strategic Planning in the Air Force: Force Reduction

The United States Air Force is undergoing a radical transformation. Between 2007 and 2009, the Air Force will reduce its force by more than 40,000 people as well as undergo massive organizational restructuring. There is a high probability the Air Force will initiate a second round of personnel cuts. This Air Force transformation initiates fundamental changes in the technology and current organizational structure rendering current technology and warfare methods obsolete. It also comes on the heels of 16 years of non-stop military operations, the effect on aircraft, accelerated wear and tear. Since 1990, the Air Force has been involved in international policing actions, humanitarian missions and most notably, war against the nation of Iraq. The attack on the World Trade Centers in 2001 brought our nation into war against terrorism. Today’s Air Force is operating with the oldest inventory of aircraft in its history (Unattributed). The cost of replacing and/or upgrading its fleet of aircraft runs into billions of dollars. The “force reduction” exercise significantly reduces personnel costs and the Air Force will divert these savings for fleet modernization. Force reduction implies a reduction in the current workforce however; the Air Force’s mission (workload) remains unchanged. The Air Force initiated process-streamlining initiatives intended to increase efficiencies and minimize service level disruptions due to personnel losses.

The Air Force’s vision is “Global Vigilance, Reach, and Power” and its mission statement “Deliver Sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests—to fly and fight in air, space, and cyberspace.” As the Air Force evolves, senior leadership adjusts tactical and strategic initiatives so the Air Force can continue to perform its mission while at the same time move towards its vision. Due to congressional budget restraints, leaders often find themselves making difficult decisions. The war with Iraq costs the United States an estimated 500 billion dollars annually (Critical Times for Air & Space Power). This cost coupled with rising operating costs such as fuel, aircraft repair and modification have forced Pentagon leadership to redefine how the Air Force must operate to continue to meet its mission requirements. For the Air Force, this means a smaller more lethal force. The Air Force needs to reshape itself to stay ahead of its perceived threats as defined by senior leadership. It is necessary to maintain air dominance now and in future wars (Burgess). To maintain air superiority, the Air Force has to recapitalize is fleet of aircraft as well as associated support systems. Congress has allocated some money for modernization but it’s not enough.

The Department of the Air Force submitted its operating budget for the next six years and congress appropriated 690 million dollars, 20 billion short of what it needs to recapitalize its fleet (Christie). The average age of the aircraft in its fleet is 23 years old (Weckerlein). For example, the KC-135 air refueling tanker aircraft is a key component in the military’s ability to perform global missions due to its strategic importance. It has been in service since the 1950’s and is high on the list of aircraft to be replaced. Within the next 13 years, The Air Force plans a “Phase I” purchase of 100 new air refueling tanker aircraft to replace a portion of the current fleet. Congress allocated 100 million dollars for the Phase I purchase (Congressional House Report 108-622). This is a good start, but only begins to resolve the Air Force’s modernization crisis.

The Air Force is being forced to drastically alter initiatives put in place under previous strategic plans. Budget constraints have caused the Department of the Air Force to reduce the number of aircraft it intends to purchase such as the transport aircraft C-17 Globemaster III. The Air Force also wants to retire its fleet of U-2 reconnaissance aircraft; however, because of the cost of its unmanned replacement, the Global Hawk, and political pressure, the Air Force intends to retain the U-2 for an undetermined amount of time. The Department of the Air Force plans to replace the F-15 with the F-22 Raptor however, current budget restraints have caused the Air Force to reconsider. Several aircraft have surpassed their intended structural life and need extensive modifications to remain in service or are in need of replacement. Ownership cost to maintain these aircraft continues to climb as they age as well as the amount of time these aircraft spend undergoing extensive maintenance. While aircraft undergo more frequent maintenance and modification, they are unavailable to support war-fighting missions. With our nation at war for the foreseeable future, the Air Force must maintain its war-fighting capability within fiscal restraints. To finance such a huge undertaking, Air Force leadership is looking to reduce personnel costs.

The Air Force is downsizing its force by 40,000 people between 2007 and 2009 through legislation signed by the President called Program Budget Decision 720 (PBD720). Half of those 40,000 will leave the service in 2007. While engaged in war this may seem questionable. However, to maintain force readiness, the Air Force must find the funds needed to upgrade or replace its aging fleet and space assets within congressional budget restraints (Weckerlein).

The war on terrorism highlights the need for a larger ground force. In past wars, the Air Force played a decisive role in shaping the wars outcome. The current war is a ground war and the United States Army is bearing a brunt of the fighting. In an effort to provide some relief for the Army, the Department of Defense is right sizing its services. This “right sizing” means the personnel budgets for the Air Force and Navy will shrink while the Army’s increases in an effort to boost its forces to meet its operational needs.

The current Air Force end strength is 347,624. Post PBD720, its end strength will be approximately 307,624 by the end of 2009. Comparatively, the Reagan Presidential era Air Force population was about 600,000. Since then the Air Force has downsized to its current end strength, the absolute minimum needed to perform its in-garrison mission while meeting global deployment requirements. The attacks on the United States in 2001 upset that balance. In the war on terrorism, Air Force personnel are experience more frequent deployments that last significantly longer in duration than in the past. Military personnel in general spend more time deployed in support of the war and other military commitments than they do at home. Since the Reagan era and subsequent downsizing to the Air Force’s current levels, the in-garrison workload has not changed. There are fewer people in-garrison to perform that workload.

Historically, Air Force downsizing targeted overmanned management levels and specific skill sets to retain the optimum force mix which primarily affected the enlisted force structure. What makes this force reduction unique is that PBD720 is a cost cutting exercise meant to produce a fast payback of its costliest asset in an attempt to recapitalize its aircraft fleet. This drill affects both the enlisted and officer corps with a reductions at all levels, managers, front line supervisors, and the blue collar work force. Personnel costs are staggering, and the annual cost per person to the Air Force ranges from $37,569.00 to $232.724.00, depending upon grade. This cost factors in a members pay, medical costs, housing costs, moving costs etc. There are three categories of personnel in the Air Force (officer, enlisted and civilian), each having separate cost structures. The average annual cost to the Air Force for civilian personnel is $74,800.00, officers $121,200.00, and enlisted $58,800.00 (US Air Force Cost and Planning Factors). The overall average per person cost to the Air Force is $84,933.00. PBD720 reduces labor costs by an average 3.4 billion dollars annually.

To meet its force reduction goal, the Air Force implemented several exit strategies highlighted below:

Date of Separation (DOS) Rollback: There are two parts of the DOS Rollback initiative, non-voluntary and voluntary. The non-voluntary initiative separates personnel from the Air Force by March 2007 (Miner). If a member is not reenlistment eligible, they must separate from the Air Force. There are several reasons someone may be denied reenlistment in the Air Force. Certain forms of judicial and non-judicial punishment, a member being non-worldwide deployable and low annual performance appraisals are a few examples. The Voluntary DOS rollback targets a specific population and applies to mid-level enlisted managers with less than 14 years of service and more than 20 years of service. Mid-level enlisted managers in these two categories may request a waiver to be released from their service obligation. The reason a member must request a waiver is to maintain a balanced mid-level manager cadre as well as to maintain the appropriate skill set balance the Air Force needs to operate (Miner).

Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI) for Officers: Congress enacted the Officers 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, which pays officers with 6-12 years of service to separate (Congress approves Air Force Separation

VSI for mid-level enlisted managers: Enlisted personnel with over six years of active duty service that are in skill sets targeted for reduction may volunteer to separate at half rate. As an additional incentive to separate, the Air force provides transition assistance. One-thousand four hundred enlisted personnel qualify for this VSI initiative (Miner).

Attrition: The Air Force traditionally recruits about 30,000 enlisted and officers each year. In an effort to reach the PBD720 reduction goals, the Air Force will reduce its recruiting goal by nine percent in 2007 (Air Force Still Hiring); or about 3000 fewer enlisted and 500 fewer officers (Gettle). Historically, the number of people leaving the Air Force each year matches the number it recruits. The Air Force uses this strategy to maintain its workforce, more commonly termed end strength. The Air Force hopes to reach its PBD720 goal by recruiting fewer people than will exit between 2007 and 2009

Palace Chase: This program allows people to leave active duty voluntarily to join the Air Force Reserves.

Cross training: This program allows personnel in overmanned skill sets to train into critically under-manned skill sets. The current war has placed an emphasis on certain skill sets while placing a lower emphasis on others. Personnel opting not to cross train from targeted over manned skill sets face separation from the Air Force.

Blue to Green: Air Force members may choose to cross services into the Army and still maintain their current pay grade and benefits.

Although this manpower reduction appears to be an adhoc decision, significant analysis was accomplished. Leaders looked at the total number of personnel required to fulfill its most demanding wartime deployment scenario. In other words, how much manpower would it need if the Air Force sent everyone needed to fight at a heightened and sustained level to foreign soil. The excess force beyond that number is what Pentagon leadership targeted for reduction. This analysis does not take into account what is still required to operate Air Force bases in the United States, Europe, and Japan during peacetime operations. Senior leadership understands its forces will loose the ability to maintain home station workload while involved in a war such as the war on terror. Senior Pentagon officials refer to this operating deficit as an “acceptable” risk in which in-garrison services are provided at a reduced level of service. One aspect leadership may have overlook in their analysis is the morale of those remaining in the service.

Men and woman serving in the Armed Forces are proud to serve their country and extremely committed to their job. The armed services are the only occupation in the United States that comes with an “unlimited liability clause” in which the member understands that they may have to sacrifice their life in defense of their country. However, even the most dedicated person has limits.

PBD720 is a political reality. The current war on terrorism has increased the Air Force’s operational tempo to the point of near failure. With no end in sight to this war, a large portion of Air Force personnel find themselves in Iraq, Afghanistan, or a foreign country in support the war effort as much or more than they are at home with their families. Post PBD720, the deployment rate at which personnel find themselves away from their families will increase exponentially. The Air Force is increasing the deployment length and frequency of all Air Force deployments with some critical skill sets being deployed for one year. Because this war is indefinite, the Air Force will likely find it difficult to retain highly skilled individuals and attract the people it needs into highly technical fields.

The Air Force is structured in a way that tries to retain 60% of its personnel to build its middle and upper management levels. Historically, 40% serve one term and separate from the Air Force. Given the higher deployment commitment and doing more with less, the Air Force may have difficulty retain the personnel it needs beyond their first or second term of enlistment, future leaders. The reasons people join the Air Force are broad. Many people join to gain an education and/or receive highly technical training that translates to the civilian job market. Some join with the intent to stay for 20 years to earn a pension and lifetime benefits. The implication of PBD720 is that the future Air Force will encounter problems retaining the high standard of people it desires to fill its highly complex jobs.

Remember, these force reductions do not come with an in-garrison workload reduction. Though Air Force leaders voice that a culture change must take place to accommodate a smaller force, it will be slow to change. Managers at all levels are accustomed to the level of service required to perform its mission. With PBD720, the Air Force cannot perform its services to the level currently provided to its customers; something’s got to give. Until the Air Force culture changes to accommodate this reality, personnel will be required to perform their jobs at their current service levels with fewer people, the absolute reality.

To sustain itself in light of its current force reduction, the Air Force initiated a business concept it labeled Air Force Smart Operations 21 (AFSO21). Based on the best aspects of the business process improvement practices, Lean and Six Sigma, AFSO21 focuses on creating efficiencies through the process reengineering as well as identification and elimination of waste. The reengineering process also focuses on eliminating policies that to not contribute to mission effectiveness or add value. The primary goal of AFSO21 is to eliminate wasted effort through process streamlining. By capturing lessons learned from industry, the Air Force hopes to take a smarter approach to the way it conducts business. In theory, streamlined processes require fewer workers to achieve the same level of work.

Still in its infancy stage, AFSO21 will review every process within the Air Force within each separate skill set. Imagine a company the size of PepsiCo Inc. and its many divisions such as Pepsi, Quaker, Frito Lay, Tropicana, and Gatorade. Now imagine breaking each division down into its many product lines then examining each process within each product line to include manufacturing, sales, marketing and reengineering each of them. Once each division’s product lines have been reengineered, imagine next breaking down each process within the management layer to the top of each division. Once each division has been reengineered, then the overarching parent company, PepsiCo Inc. is reengineered in a way that examines internal division operations as well as the way each division interacts with each other and the parent company. The Air Force will undertake this daunting task. It needs to identify waste and produce process efficiencies much like global industries.

As part of its process reengineering effort, the Air force will look to break away from skill set specialization and examine skill set cross-utilization. There are gained efficiencies through combining those skills that share similar tasks. As an example, two skill sets, Life Support and Survival Equipment share a similar mission; both are responsible for pilot safety. The Life Support skill set is responsible for maintaining the pilot’s helmet, oxygen mask and seat kit while the Survival skill set maintains parachutes and life rafts. There are gained synergies in combining these two skill sets and eliminating work process duplication. The Air Force will realize savings in work force reductions in both management overhead and the blue-collar work force. In an attempt to move away from the old mindset of skill set specialization, the Air Force seeks synergies in which fewer skill sets perform wider job responsibilities.

The same concept exists for organizational structure. The Air Force will examine organizational structures and combine them where synergies exist. Structure reorganization can occur at the lowest levels all the way to the executive level. As an example, the Air Force combined two separate divisions, Personnel (human resources) and manpower (industrial engineers). The interesting thing of this merger was that the gained efficiencies occurred at the executive levels only. Both divisional structures do not share similar skill sets. Manpower, through reengineering studies determines the number of people required to perform overhead management functions as well as the number of people required to perform a company’s processes or outcomes. The personnel division is responsible for assigning people to the “spaces” determined by manpower. The gained synergies occur at the executive level whereby managers may be responsible to lead people within each function. Organizational restructuring produces more than just synergies but in fact reduces labor costs in duplication reduction. Just as with industry, mergers combine the strengths of two companies while producing efficiencies and duplication reduction.

The Air Force’s senior leaders are the change mangers for this force reduction. They understand the need for a mind-set change (culture change) as well as the need to gain employee buy-in at all levels. Leaders have championed the need for force reduction at all levels and provide constant communication. Leaders provide communication via internal official communication, intranet web pages, direct communication through mass meetings, as well as supervisors talking to employees.

Forced to operate within strictly defined budgets, the Air Force faces difficult choices. It posses aging weapons systems whose wear is accelerated by over a decade of continuous war, policing, and humanitarian actions. As leaders look into the future and plan how best to defeat current and future adversaries, its aging fleet of aircraft and support systems are its greatest weakness. In order to defend the United States, the Air Force has no choice but to modernize its aircraft. It will cost billions of dollars to do so. As with any company, personnel are its greatest costs. The Air Force views its people as a quick win in order to offset the cost of fleet modernization. The quick win reduces the Air Force’s active duty force by 40,000 between 2007 and 2009. Unlike past reductions that were aimed at reducing its middle management tier, all Air Force personnel from four-star generals to the lowest ranking enlisted person will be affected. To meet its force reduction the Air Force will utilize several methods, some through voluntary incentives and some through non-voluntary reductions. Senior leaders in the Pentagon are aware of the risks posed to the Air Force mission. Leaders understand the Air Force cannot maintain the same level of service in-garrison and understand its personnel will face more frequent and longer deployments in war zones. The Air Force also anticipates lower unit morale and retention problems as forces draw down. To combat the negative effects of a force reduction, the Air Force initiated AFSO21 to streamline work processes and reduce waste as well as produce synergies through skill set cross-utilization and organizational restructuring. The restructuring effort will touch every organization and find ways to eliminate waste and streamline work processes. Whether theses actions will prove successful has yet to be seen, but one fact remains. The Air Force of tomorrow will be vastly different from the one in place today.

Part 2

Part two of this paper reflects my view of the research presented in part one. This is not the first force reduction exercise for the Air Force. I entered the Air Force in 1990 in the midst of a force reduction. The Air Force was overmanned for its post cold war mission and Air Force personnel soon adopted the phrase “do more with less.” It was not a flattering phrase and was used sarcastically. Air Force leaders tried in vain to be change agents to create buy-in and failed. In large part because the Air Force created the motto, service before self. Regardless of the core value leaders were trying to instill at the time, it only served to reinforce the do more with less concept. Over time, Air Force personnel accepted the changed culture and everything once again became business as usual.

As the Air Force is doing now, they also attempted to initiate process improvement in order to adjust the cold war processes. Like now, senior leadership saw the need to streamline and reduce waste. Called Quality Air Force, senior leaders borrowed the total quality management initiatives in the commercial business world at the time. However, Quality Air Force failed, because the Air Force took a good tool and focused only on metrics charts rather than actually process improvement. People quickly learned that all they needed to do is create binders that depicted metrics charts. In 1998, the Air Force abandoned the Quality Air Force concept.

The Air Force is again initiating a force reduction exercise. This reduction is unrelated to an oversized service but due to the need to modernize an aging aircraft fleet and a shrinking budget. Every fiscal year, congress approves the military budget and services are required to operate its forces within that budget. Of particular interest is the fact that the military is operating on a “peacetime” budget during a time of war.

The Air Force will be successful in their drive to purchase new aircraft and modify others; it is the service’s number one priority. Regardless of the administration in office, the priority to modernize its fleet of aircraft will not change. The question that remains is what the Air Force will look like when the dust has settled. Right now, no one really understands the consequences of this latest force reduction and leadership at all levels is waiting for the fall out.

The biggest challenge to the current force reduction effort lies in the Air Force’s ability to operate effectively both in-garrison as well as its ability to sustain war in two major theatre’s of operation. In my opinion senior leaders are focused on the consequence of not modernizing the Air Force’s aircraft fleet, they should be. In my opinion, senior leaders were too focused on modernizing its fleet of aircraft and didn’t fully consider the consequences of funding such an endeavor.

The Air Force understands the risks involved in the reduction in that the Air Force will find it difficult to execute its peacetime and wartime missions. Rather than plan for the inevitable, leadership executed the reduction and then created the process improvement scenario.

Do I think process improvement will work? For the most part yes, although service personnel will suffer greatly for several years until the Air Force realizes its streamlining reward. People serving in the military are a proud people and will always do what is necessary to accomplish the mission. Service personnel, regardless of imposed hardship will not let the mission suffer because of careless leadership decisions. However, the service stands to loose some its best and talented people, those who love serving their country but realize they can take their talents into the civilian workforce without suffering undue hardship. Regardless of leadership decisions, the people will make the reduction work.

The force reduction’s success is based on improvement initiatives meant to streamline and reduce waste. The force reduction of the nineties was the first time the Air Force initiated streamlining processes. Even though the Air Force abandoned Quality Air Force, the reality was that there were still 300,000 fewer people to perform the same workload as there had been during the cold war. Without an official process improvement initiative in place, Air Force personnel informally devised shortcuts out of necessity; there were fewer people to perform the same workload. Since the nineties, service men and women have created their own efficiencies. Yes, there are still improvements needed. The real question is whether the Air Force will realize the efficiencies envisioned in light of the latest force reduction. No one can answer that question. It is true though that Air Force leadership initiated a force reduction with the intent to “back into the numbers” and stated, they’ve accepted a level of risk.

As in the civilian sector, job security does not exist. The Air Force initiated several exit strategies to reduce its forces. Will these exit strategies work, absolutely. There is an unwritten rule in all the services. Service members are human and there are those that will always do things to get into trouble. The Air Force has its own judicial system to punish offenders. When the Air Force has experienced manning shortages, punishments normally don’t include discharge except in extreme cases. During force reduction initiatives, even trivial misconduct can mean discharge and the end of a career. It is the Commander’s prerogative to decide the level of punishment, and during this force reduction, many offenders will be shown the door.

Politics plays a central role in military force shaping. Under the current administration, the Security of Defense aligns the office goals with that of the President’s agenda. The current administration chose to reduce personnel costs as an offset to modernize its fleet. Though the Air Force has initiated the current PBD720, subsequent administrations may initiate differing strategies or may even reverse this administrations decision, an unknown variable.

In the seventeen years I have been a member of the Air Force I have learned the services are a political arm and pawn of lawmakers residing in Washington D.C. and affected by the presiding Presidential administration, Congress, and the Senate. I have witnessed lawmakers presenting themselves publicly in a positive light then force the military to restructure on a small scale to serve their own back scratching initiatives. When the dust settles, do I think the current force reduction initiatives will work? They have too. The men and women serving the United States today do not believe in failure.

Works Cited

"Air Force still hiring." Air Force Recruiting Service (10 Aug. 2006). Online. Internet. Available (5 Nov. 2006).

Bennett, John. "Tanker Debate: Medium, Large, or Both?" (8 Mar. 2006). Online. Internet. Available,15240,90236,00.html (23 Oct. 2006).

Burgess, Lisa. "Top Enlisted Airman See Challenges Ahead." (5 July 2006). Online. Internet. Available,15240,104181,00.html (24 Oct. 2006).

Christie, Rebecca. "The Air Force Tries to Limit Budget Pain as Bills Pile Up." CNN Money (20 Oct. 2006). Online. Internet. Available (27 Oct. 2006).

"Congressional House Report 108-622 - MAKING APPROPRIATIONS FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING SEPTEMBER 30, 2005, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES ." Library of Congress (n.d.). Online. Internet. Available (24 Oct. 2006).

"Critical Times for Air & Space Power." Air Force Association (n.d.). Online. Internet. Available (23 Oct. 2006).

Gettle, MSgt Mitch. "Air Force officials announce 2007 force-shaping initiatives." Air Force Link (26 July 2006). Online. Internet. Available (28 Oct. 2006).

Gettle, MSgt Mitch. "Air Force’s FY 2007 budget released." Air Force Print News (6 Feb. 2006). Online. Internet. Available (25 Oct. 2006).

Miner, Colonol James. "FY07 Force Shaping Message #2." Official Communication. 16 Oct. 2006.

Unattributed. "Aging problems to affect USAF planes for 20 more years." United States Air Force Aim Points (16 Sep. 2005). Online. Internet. Available (25 Oct. 2006).

US AIR FORCE COST AND PLANNING FACTORS. AFI 65-503, Table 19-2. United States Air Force, n.d.

Weckerlein, SSgt Julie. "Two New Programs Shape Enlisted Force." (17 Oct. 2006). Online. Internet. Available,15240,117037,00.html (20 Oct. 2006).

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