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Big problems, little solutions

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- "Hey boss, what's that noise?! Never mind, it's just the T.V. We must've left it on all weekend. Good thing we don't pay the electric bill! Oh, well. At least the spiders got to watch a few good football games."

As much as our arachnid friends might have enjoyed watching Oklahoma beat up on whatever team they played over the weekend, something else was happening that no one intended or wanted - wasting taxpayer dollars during a time when the Department of Defense is facing a presidential directive to find ways to save $450 billion over the next decade.

Unfortunately, this seemingly insignificant type of scenario occurs in a variety of ways more often than it should. Every day, DOD facilities use large amounts of energy; and every day much of that energy is used needlessly. Whether we realize it or not, our energy consumption habits at work have a direct impact on the size of the energy bill the DOD pays - or should I say, we all pay.

Employees who do not care about how much energy they use at work might think it does not matter because it's not their money. The government is paying for it, right?

Anyone who has been watching the news lately knows this country, especially the government, is facing significant fiscal challenges. Individual citizens have a variety of good reasons to tighten the proverbial belt, and their choices, good or bad, affect mainly themselves. That is not the case for defense employees. Every choice made affects everyone else. Every dollar needlessly spent to pay energy bills is a dollar that cannot be used to ensure the viability of our combat capabilities. As such, we have the distinct responsibility to be good stewards of the tax dollars allotted through the annual military budget.

Are we, as DOD employees and stewards of the money we directly or indirectly have control over, doing all we can to stretch each dollar and pinch each penny? Are we shutting off lights when we are not in a room, adjusting the thermostat to a smart level, turning off the television when we are not watching it and refraining from driving government vehicles when we don't need to? These may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they add up over time.

According to the 2010 DOD Annual Energy Management Report, the DOD "... spent $3.6 billion on facility energy" and "$9.6 billion on fuel for vehicles (fleet and non-fleet) and other equipment" during fiscal year 2009.

One might be thinking at this point, "Why try? Can I really make a difference?" or "The debt is so big! What does it matter if I save a dollar here and a dollar there?"

Our collective efforts to save energy wherever and whenever we can will add up and make a difference. According to defense.gov, the DOD employs more than three million people. If we each found a way to save just ten dollars this year, that's $30 million! How about $100 per person this year? Your individual effort seems more significant when we look at it like that, right? Your efforts might even save your own job, or at least some of the current benefits you enjoy!

"Nothing is off the table at this point," said former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to the Armed Services Committee on Jan. 27, 2011 regarding military budget cuts.

Some might reply to Gates' quote by saying, "There is no way they'll cut the military budget. There's too much at stake."

While it is sobering to consider how much really is at stake, the fact is the DOD must make cuts. The military budget estimate for 2011 is $928.5 billion and currently makes up 24 percent of the federal budget - more than any other single entity. It's no wonder why lawmakers and financial watchdog groups are looking hard at the military budget. We are at a critical juncture in our nation's history, and our leaders know that. Let's help them identify and correct inefficiencies and other means by which we can save money without affecting our combat capabilities.

The overarching message contained in recent Air Force Budget Priorities guidance says, "It is time to prepare Airmen to enter into a period of great fiscal challenge. While the programs have yet to be specified or defined, it is important to remain focused on the mission and people. We are going to have to make tough choices. The approach that we have taken is to preserve the readiness of our Air Force as a prime imperative - that whatever size we end up, the Air Force will continue to be a ready, well-trained, highly motivated and supremely capable force."

Did you ever think that your energy consumption habits in the workplace could have an effect on the future of the armed forces? All government employees should embrace this mindset. Whatever motivates you to find ways to conserve energy - concern for the environment, a desire to be a good steward of taxpayer dollars, the belief that our actions today will shape the Nation's ability to protect itself and project combat power in the future, or a combination of any or all of these or other reasons - needs to result in positive change in the way we go about our daily lives.

Saving money at work should be even more important since it's not just your money that's being spent - it's all of ours. Furthermore, our benefits, jobs and most importantly, the future of America's fighting forces depend upon our resolve to help reduce spending. Whether you are an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century guru or simply the person who ensures the lights and computer monitors are off and the doors are closed, you are making a difference!