By Scott Prater
Earlier this year a member of the 460th Civil Engineer Squadron at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., asked why the backs of street signs on base needed to be painted brown. After all, the base could save a considerable amount of money if it simply left the signs their natural galvanized color.
The idea [of not painting the signs] saved the base and the Air Force more than $10,000 this year alone.
“This example shows exactly why the Air Force implemented the Innovative Development Through Employee Awareness program,” said Derek Hamby, 50th Force Support Squadron chief of Manpower and Organization. “In today’s constrained fiscal environment, we need to figure out ways to not only get our jobs done in a more cost effective manner, but also find and reduce redundancies.”
The IDEA program rewards idea generators with cash, as much as $10,000 in some cases. Active-duty Airmen and DOD civilians are eligible to participate. If the idea submitted concerns tangible monetary savings to the Air Force, individuals can receive 3 percent of the first year’s savings for concepts inside their specialty. If the submitted idea concerns savings for an area outside the individual’s specialty, they can receive up to 15 percent of the first year’s savings.
For ideas that present or bring intangible savings, like those that improve efficiency or somehow reduce time and resources, individuals can earn a $200 reward for non-duty areas or receive incentive items [up to $100 in value] for ideas that produce improvements in their job area.
“In one of the biggest cost-saving ideas we’ve heard of, members of the 45th Security Forces Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., recommended allowing training waivers for newly hired civil service police officers who had attended NASA Federal Law Enforcement Training,” said Brandon Schirm, 50th Space Wing IDEA program manager. “Air Force Space Command ultimately implemented the idea and experienced $438,000 in validated savings.”
Schirm and Hamby shared these examples as means for showing how large and small ideas can add up to save the Air Force and bases like Schriever considerable time, money and manpower. But they’re both surprised at the few number of submissions the office here has received here during the past year.
“The problem right now is the program isn’t being utilized as it should be,” Hamby said. “I’ve worked at installations in the past where we saw two submissions a week, whereas here, we’re getting maybe one submission every couple of months.”
Hamby said most people at Schriever simply aren’t aware of the IDEA program’s existence, while others have submitted ideas in the past only to be turned down because they didn’t include detailed cost-benefit analysis along with their idea.
“We research an idea on our end much the same way a patent office researches ideas,” Hamby said. “It’s time consuming. We have to make sure the submission is an original idea. Then, we run it by subject matter experts for review to make sure it is implementable. But the idea generator is required to show savings, either in monetary or efficiency terms.”
The requirement doesn’t stipulate that people work alone. Ideas are often presented by tandems or teams of people.
“Say one person has the idea and may have a friend or partner who can do the analysis,” Hamby said. “That’s fine if people want to work together that way. But, if an award is presented, it will be split among the partners in a case like that.”
Analysis and difficulty aside, the program has proven it’s not too complicated or difficult for potential submitters to navigate. Hamby estimates that five people here have earned awards of $200 or more during the past two years.
The key is reaching those with the right knowledge of environment and situations.
“I think young Airmen are vital to the success of this program,” Hamby said. “It’s important for them to be aware of IDEA program because they come into the Air Force with fresh ideas. They’re not predisposed to a certain way of doing things, so they can look at a situation with a different perspective. They just don’t know that something like this exists.”
Anyone who has an idea they think might save the base or the Air Force resources, no matter where the savings might occur are encouraged to contact Schirm at 567-CASH (2274).
Schirm and Hamby are also available to brief the IDEA program to Airmen during commander’s calls.