I wrote recently about deep-set problems with funding and finance support for Air Force mission activities, proposing that those problems are both a reflection of the unraveling of Air Force squadrons in recent years and an increasingly prominent cause of that unraveling.
As finance offices contend with a continual onslaught of requests for knowledge and assistance from base-level personnel (requests several senior finance leaders told me offline that their troops are ill-equipped to handle), an increasingly favored tactic on many bases is to resist interaction with customers altogether. Some offices are limiting customer service hours, any others have stopped answering phones, porting them directly to voicemail black holes where messages are condemned to perish unreviewed. Still other offices are taking the gambit another step and dropping the pretense of interaction altogether by scrubbing their phone numbers from base directories, providing a faceless and unpromising address to an organizational email box instead.
It’s an understandable response to the pressure these offices are under. With roughly 30% of the manpower they had a decade ago, drastically diminished rank and experience levels, and high-tempo airmen in greater need of pay assistance than ever before, the crunch is on. The consolidated financial service center set up by officials at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to handle reimbursements has been a total flop, leaving too many airmen and their commanders in the dark for too long, triggering even more demands for local service.
But what is understandable is not necessarily right or acceptable. Finance offices must not detach themselves from base populations, or barricade themselves behind anonymous email addresses that break the two-way bond of mutual support and accountability between a customer and service agency. Many bases are fortunate to have comptrollers who get this. But a growing number are stepping away from their roles, and that’s a mistake base leaders should not be tolerating.
Accordingly, the link below contains, listed by major command, the office phone numbers of every Comptroller, Finance Superintendent, Financial Management Flight Chief, and Financial Analysis Flight Chief across the service. The names may change over time, but the numbers should be reliable. These are the phones that get answered no matter what, so airmen should generally be able to get a voice on the other end of the line. The document is an unclassified, freely shareable product of the Air Force Secretariat. It is normally given to key personnel within the finance community, but there are no use restrictions. I encourage you to send it to anyone and everyone who might need it.
Aside from the fact it is a public product created with taxpayer funds, there are many other good reasons to publicize this document, two of which are worth mentioning here.
First, as previously touched upon, allowing finance personnel to insulate themselves from the base populace is a mistake of leadership. Less communication is certain to wither any remaining bond of shared purpose between FMers and those they support, and the Air Force cannot abide self-inflicted degradations of teamwork.
Second, to artificially reduce the service demands placed on base finance offices is to advance an elaborate lie about the stress level with which they and their customers are contending. Let’s not fool ourselves by making the saturation level more tolerable or less atrocious than it would be if airmen could dial into finance. Let’s allow the true demand signal to be heard so that the true degree of resource deficiency can be registered. This is how we know what adjustments to make.
This last point is critical. Sources tell JQP that yet another manpower “study” focused on financial management has just been recently conducted, and that senior officials are expected to call for additional manning reductions using it as justification.
Letting green-eye-shaded junk scientists easily dummy up their data by unplugging the phones is just the sort of self-defeating conduct base level commanders have been fooled into for far too long. Masking problems is a dark path leading to bigger and more complicated problems down the line.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Call finance. Professionally and tactfully but relentlessly demand help with the pay issues you and your troops are confronting. Ring the bell of truth with your chain of command about the support you’re getting and not getting. Make the true state of the system register. We could use a lot more honest communication in the operating environment, even and especially if it means exposing the pain level of getting the job done in a system broken by bad policy choices.