JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- With help from the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, the Air Force is leaning forward to consolidate and reduce the facility footprint at installations across the enterprise.
Effective facility management and space optimization is nothing new to the Air Force. The service had been monitoring and collecting facility and infrastructure data well before publishing the Air Force Infrastructure Investment Strategy in January 2019.
A substantial shift to telework during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, prompted officials to move more quickly toward striking a balance between infrastructure, manning, funding and mission success.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson recently asked whether teleworking, sustained on a wide scale, could equate to offsetting facility requirements across the Air Force.
To answer Wilson’s question, the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, and its primary subordinate unit AFCEC, got to work and presented a pilot study proposal to Headquarters Air Force in July.
“With approval to press forward, AFCEC began working on pilot studies at two installations: the large installation of Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and the smaller installation of Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. The large and small installation effort will shape and inform broader application of concepts across the Air Force,” said Maj. James Tyhurst, AFCEC’s Installation Planning Branch chief.
AFCEC first worked with installation leadership, since the validity of the studies would rely greatly on support and the current vision from installation leaders and civil engineers, said Neal McElhannon, Air Force facility space management subject matter expert with AFCEC’s Planning and Integration Directorate. The pilot studies will focus on administrative functions because of the likelihood of continued telework opportunities associated with that mission.
“We need installation help and buy-in to support our goal of leaving each pilot base with a thorough facility space analysis and viable courses of action,” said Chuck Cyr, AFCEC’s Comprehensive Planning Division chief.
Those courses of action will highlight opportunities to expand the use of telework, consolidate functions into good facilities, and ultimately eliminate poor facilities through consolidation or demolition, he said.
“The AFCEC facility space management team is conducting the studies, however partnership and collaboration with installation leadership and organizations is critical to the success of this initiative,” Cyr added.
During the studies, AFCEC is compiling a variety of data elements, but are primarily focused on:
1. Unit space allocations, authorizations and building utilization rates
2. Accurate building floor plans
3. Unit telework analysis and plans
4. Building condition index and mission dependency index
Once AFCEC and the installation team complete and deliver outcomes and recommendations, installation leaders will be in a position to move forward with implementation actions that support the current vision at their bases, Cyr said.
Other functions outside of administration could also participate in the implementation phase while others, who work more in the classified environment for example, would be limited because of the nature of their mission.
“We’re not driving the train at Scott and Luke,” McElhannon said. “The studies developed will belong to the installation commander, and will be analyzed to determine return on investment and value for the Air Force. If approved by senior leadership, they will help pave the way for expanded telework, and ultimately support the Air Force goal of ‘right sizing’ our installation footprint and eliminating failing facilities.”
As pilot studies wrap up later in the fall, Cyr and his team expect to, in coordination with the two installations and respective major commands, present their findings to Headquarters Air Force leadership early in 2021.
“It’s our goal to ultimately develop facility space utilization data for all installations because it helps our warfighters optimize and manage their space better on a day-to-day basis,” Cyr said. “At the same time, facility space utilization data can also be used at the enterprise-level to help inform broader decisions like capacity analysis, strategic basing and beddown, and base re-alignment and closure.”
The Air Force’s current Infrastructure Investment Strategy is “driving the requirement to reduce our footprint. It’s a way to stop spending money and resources on excess infrastructure, and lets us focus on future force structure and quality of life for our Air Force,” said McElhannon.
“Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. recently talked about the importance of accelerating change or lose and the fact that we need to embrace today’s fiscal realities and make bold decisions to best sustain and modernize our aging force structure if the Air Force is to maintain air dominance,” Cyr said. “Facility space optimization can support this broader initiative by enabling facility footprint reduction, resulting in vital maintenance and repair reinvestment in our aging installation weapon systems.”
“Every dollar counts and the reinvestment that we could realize by optimizing our space utilization could make a significant difference in addressing our substantial backlog of deferred facility maintenance for those assets that we retain,” added McElhannon. “It also reduces the wear and tear on our people because maintaining excess infrastructure, from a mission support perspective, is wasteful.”