U.S. Air Force: Planning Beats Shortfall

June 27, 2014

No fleet-management operation is immune to the sting of budget cuts, not even large multinationals funded by taxpayer dollars. When the Defense Department budget was sequestered during 2013, the Command Vehicles Branch of the United States Air Forces Europe and Africa (USAFE) felt its share of pain through a 37-percent drop in maintenance money.

Business Insider's pictorial of the base gives an idea of the scope of operations.

The dilemma for the 2014 Fleet Masters large-fleet winner was how to make up as much of the deficit as possible while keeping mission-essential vehicles based at 42 locations in 35 countries safe, up and running. Perhaps worse was the time frame it had to plan under.

The USAFE is one of three winners of the 2014 Fleet Masters Award (Sarasota County and York County are the others). The award is presented each year byConstruction Equipment and the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP), and is judged on categories such as finance (financial management, acquisition, warranty and performance guarantees); information management (benchmarking, life-cycle costing, specifications and technology); policies (safety, employee training, environmental and human resources); and controls (outsourcing, parts management, preventive maintenance, and shop and facilities management).
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“We had approximately one month’s notice,” says Chief Master Sergeant Russell Robinson of the Command Vehicles Branch (CVB). “More importantly, we had already entered our fiscal year 2013 of October 1st to September 30th and were executing at normal targeted rates when the sequestration began on February 13. So our fleet managers were challenged to set incredibly low daily execution limits to stretch their budgets to the end of fiscal year 2013.”

Planning to park equipment

The CVB also had to come up with larger chunks of savings needed to counter the maintenance budget deficit. One measure that had been used before to offset years with austere budgets was parking a percentage of the fleet. A “Vehicle Parking Plan” reviews nonmission-essential vehicles to determine if they could be temporarily pulled out of use—parked—to save money.

“To consider such a measure, we confer with our base fleet managers and our primary function vehicle users to understand the impact, and more importantly get the vehicle operators’ buy-in to the realization that they will have fewer vehicle assets to complete their daily missions,” Robinson says. “Our fleet is formally predefined by essential mission types and quantities, so we use the installation’s established minimum mission-essential vehicle priority listing to help guide us, base-level fleet managers, and vehicle operators on what types and quantities of vehicles should be parked, and when they should be parked.”

Eight main-base fleet managers developed local parking plans, each briefing their installation’s leadership and implementing approved plans. The CVB helped by providing “Rules of Engagement” on what candidates to consider, what priority vehicles to exclude, suggested quantities to be effective, and storing guidance to protect assets.

“We also provided monthly reporting guidance to higher headquarters so we could measure the impact of mitigation success,” Robinson says.

The Vehicle Parking Plan allowed USAFE to park 17 percent of its fleet (1,233 vehicles) and save nearly $840,000 in maintenance and fuels funding. This represented 33 percent of the approximately $2.7-million maintenance budget reduction applied to FY2013, according to Robinson.

To save even more funds, the Air Force made a cooperative decision to deliberately extended lube, oil and filter (LOF) services due-by dates an additional six months, which was an important distinction for the CVB’s most used assets.

“For 2013, the extension resulted in cost deferral rather than direct savings,” Robinson says. “We were able to move LOF services forward into fiscal year 2014, and those originally due in 2014 to projected fiscal year 2015, or beyond, for immediate cost deferral. However, the Air Force has now permanently extended LOF intervals out to 24 months, so we should realize an average 30 percent savings, or $120,000 annually in these types of services.”

Robinson notes that the LOF extension mitigation did not impact requirements for annual vehicle safety inspections, which were executed as required. The Vehicle Parking Plan likely enabled some vehicle service extensions, but the relationship wasn’t measured.

Nor was the identification of nonmission-essential assets under the Parking Plan used to tag underutilized assets for elimination. The Air Force walks a familiar long-term asset management tightrope here.

“We were careful not to broadcast the long-term effects of parking vehicles under austere budget conditions,” Robinson explains. “The Air Force conducts vehicle reauthorization revalidations triennially. We deliberately separated those vehicles parked under budget constraints and the resulting mileage saved to discount those savings as a normal evaluation of fleet utilization. Otherwise, our vehicle users would always be at risk of permanently losing ground transportation capability simply due to budget sequestration. This is contrary to effective fleet management.”

Downsizing vehicles

Another Air Force achievement for 2013 was a money-saving modernization of its passenger-carrying vehicles. “Reducing fossil fuels and the carbon footprint within the Air Force is a top priority,” Robinson says.

As part of the effort, fuel consumption data, and the vehicles themselves, had to be accurately tracked. The CVB in Europe installed FuelMaster AIM2 fuel-management devices on over 1,000 vehicles. The AIM2 devices blend onboard diagnostics and wireless technology for vehicle tracking and fuel use.

It didn’t take too much data to find the biggest gas guzzlers. The CVB worked with local fleet managers and vehicle operators to convert 283 vehicle authorizations from pickup trucks and large sedans to subcompact sedans. This not only put the CVB on the road to building the Air Force’s largest subcompact sedan fleet, but it also saved money and reduced emissions.

“Downsizing the vehicle authorizations allowed us to procure 68 subcompact vehicles for our U.K. bases,” Robinson says. “The new right-hand-drive vehicles were a threefold benefit to the using organizations by saving fuel and money, and reducing carbon dioxide pollutants, as well as providing force protection safety—they blend into the environment and offer indigenous transportation around the U.K.”

The savings tallies were impressive. The average sedan in the current fleet achieves about 26 mpg; the 68 subcompacts get 67 mpg and save $143,000 annually. “They also cut the carbon footprint by at least 50 percent,” Robinson says. Going forward, the CVB plans to finish the subcompact program. “Our goal over the next two fiscal years is to continue advocating for funding to fill the remaining 215 subcompact authorizations, creating the largest subcompact vehicle fleet in the Air Force,” Robinson says.

“We will also continue to conduct business-case analyses on new vehicle technologies that meet minimum mission requirements while adhering to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and executive orders to reduce petroleum consumption in the most economical way.”