Thursday, March 5, 2009

Debutante with a Government Credit Card

Running out of money was the best thing I ever did in my squadron. Earlier this year, I spent just shy of my squadron's aviation support budget. This is the fund we use to buy flight clothing and gear and office supplies and shipping and communications equipment and so on.  I had been focused on a larger pot of money, our fund for repair parts, and largely ignored this smaller, but vital fund. So, I put the kibosh on all this sort of spending. No new gloves or boots or flight suits. No new pens or copier toner. No computer peripherals or awards plaques or picture frames. I filed every request except for toilet paper and absolutely flight critical equipment such as replacements for broken helmet visors.

I managed to stop just before going over budget so that I could even afford emergency items. But, most importantly, I've got everyone conserving. When they think there's plenty of money, they waste it. When they believe that I won't buy them pens and paper, they conserve them. This is all very obvious, but it's hard to put into practice when the 'troops on the ground' request anything.  It's made me get more involved. More importantly, it's made the troops on the ground get more creative. My original goal was to get rid of red tape--to be the cool Supply Officer who doesn't nickel and dime the guys, the anti-bureaucrat. But I was spending like a debutante.  Now I realize there's a balance.  And I love being thrifty. I love not spending our way out of problems.  I love seeing my sailors use up their equipment.  Now we're short on some items to be sure, but we're lighter and leaner and can better tell what we really need.  

There's definitely no set way to spend--you can't have a definite policy. I've learned to pay constant attention.  But now I err on the side of thrift. I don't assume the sailor needs something just because he asks for it. I require a thorough justification.  Sometimes, the asking becomes a metacognitive process by which he learns he can do without.  If he still needs it, he gets it, but now he better knows why and can communicate that to me and the rest of my staff. We have to spend, but now we're spending much smarter--we also happen to be spending much less.