Last week, we told you about the Air Force’s corporate decision to reverse a misguided interpretation of its lodging policy that was threatening to throw hundreds of TDY airmen into financial hardship. At the core of the issue was a desire held by bureaucrats to protect the viability of substandard, government-run hotels on military bases by forcing airmen to use them.
It’s widely felt that without a constant infusion of taxpayer dollars to prop them up, these monuments of Services yesteryear would be long since as defunct as they’ve proven insolvent. It doesn’t help that they don’t do much for airmen.
While most are inexpensive, most are also not good value for money. Cramped, dated, comparatively low-tech. Air conditioning? Maybe. Wi-Fi? Usually, but at Mogadishu speeds. Breakfast? Surely you jest. And maybe the worst part is that it’s not really a hotel in the traditional sense … because you can’t make a reservation. Try it when you’re not TDY or within 30 days of PCS and you’ll be stiff-armed. Try it when you’re within those windows and you’ll be henpecked for documentation to prove eligibility. Make it past that stage and the availability of rooms will be directly inverse to your genuine desire to obtain them. I learned as a commander that part of the reason rooms are seldom available is because lodging officials control occupancy rates to control labor costs. There will almost always be rooms available, but they’ll often be held empty on purpose … so no one will have to clean, replenish, or rent them.
In 23 years of service, I was rarely able to get billeting for my family when we moved. After a while, we stopped trying. Which is what most airmen have by now done. Billeting is not a good service anymore, and this explains why just about anyone going TDY these days — especially if accompanied by family — will avoid on-base lodging at all costs unless they’re headed to one of the few remaining Air Force lodging meccas (where rooms are so nice they’re generally occupied by DVs and unavailable to mere mortals).
Hence, the ill-conceived A1 move to try and coerce airmen into choosing a substandard product. It was all about trying to prop up a failing business that’s been mismanaged into shambles. Fortunately, the Air Force saw the light after social media activism forced them to look. Or did they?
Here’s an email from a low-level bureaucrat, which is undoubtedly a relay from a mid-level bureaucrat at the Pentagon. Unbelievably, it purports to walk back a policy made public just two days before.
From: [NAME REDACTED] TSgt USAF AFIMSC FM/FMFF
Sent: Thursday, February 16, 2017 2:09 PM
To: AMC/FMFF Flight NCOICs; AMC/FMFF FSOs
Subject: Suitable Commercial Lodging
Good afternoon all,
Please get the word out to all of your units that AirBnB and other similar lodgings are no longer a reimbursable expense. Any travel that begins after 15 Feb will be subject to the new guidelines. As soon as I have a signed policy letter I will send it out. Once we get the signed letter, you may want to use your local PA folks to help publicize the change.
More to follow.
TSgt [Name Redacted Out of Pure Mercy], TSgt, USAF
HQ AFIMSC Travel/MilPay Policy and Program Manager
Scott AFB, IL. 62225
DSN: 779-0131; Commercial: 618-229-0131
Insert “dumbest thing I’ve seen all day” meme.
The worst about this regrettable email isn’t that it fails to cite authority for what it seeks to do. Nor is it that these NCOs are getting together and hatching a scheme via email to wrongly direct the use of substantial taxpayer funds without a hint of actual commander involvement in what they are doing.
The worst part is that it’s positioning the Air Force to single out and discriminate against certain businesses. This is anti-competitive, more than a little un-American, and ultimately illegal. Unless there is a valid reason to keep airmen out of an AirBnB property (e.g. safety), the Government is not permitted to disfavor it. AirBnB and “other similar lodgings” have a claim against the Air Force for this numbskullery. The claim goes something like this: lodging is lodging. Airmen have a choice about how to spend the allowance they’re given in the JTR for lodging. Neither TSgt Snuffy nor Lt Col Bagadonuts — Hell, not even Maj Gen Feltersnatch — have the power to pick winners and losers in the lodging market. That ain’t how it works.
Here’s an idea for the just-barely-primates perched atop the lodging bureaucracy: if you want people to use billeting, make it better. Manage it effectively. Ditch the Normandy-era phone book full of rules about who can stay for how long and with how many people in tow. Get into the current century with reservation systems and baseline amenities.
If you can’t do these things, give up and stop pissing away taxpayer cash in a loser’s business. Once the buildings have been converted to something useful or tagged for bulldozing, we can liquidate the manpower authorizations tied up in managing the world’s worst hotel chain and plow the spare manpower back into somewhere it is needed: operations and maintenance squadrons.