EDITORIAL COMMENT: The Serving Line
The Collaboration Dividend
Vexing problems that seem too difficult to solve single-handedly are sometimes easily overcome through teamwork.
So while responding to extremely challenging times by developing methods of their own for achieving goals in cost cutting and improving performance, military subsistence leaders are also asking industry partners for vital advice and constructive collaboration.
But even as tighter and tighter federal budgets push the value of that cooperation higher, the ensuing restrictions on military travel result in fewer opportunities where subsistence can share its problems and join with suppliers to shape solutions.
Among the few prime opportunities in 2013 where the two groups could come together, the National Restaurant Association show in the spring, where Air Force and Marine Corps foodservice awards were presented, and the fall conference of Research and Development Associates for Military Food and Packaging (R&DA) stand out.
In his keynote address at R&DA last month, Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Troop Support Commander Brig. Gen. Steven Shapiro, USA, told industry partners that a “culture of judiciousness” is widespread in the military and that “we need your big ideas” to help cut $13 billion in costs over the next six years from total purchases of $14.5 billion annually. Subsistence accounts for nearly $4 billion a year of that total.
“We need you out there with us thinking through solutions,” he said, noting that “we're going to be trying to squeeze every last dime out of every purchase.”
DLA Troop Support plans to reach its cost-cutting goal by reviewing its purchasing processes, including decreasing direct material costs, reducing overhead and improving customer service.
For example, the activity is reviewing its prime vendor programs both inside the continental United States (CONUS) as well as outside (OCONUS).
A goal for OCONUS is to increase the percentage of items in its catalog that are covered under the Manufacturer Pricing Agreement (MPA) prime vendor program, as well as the dollar volume.
DLA has a different set of concerns regarding CONUS and its National Allowance Pricing Agreement (NAPA) program. It is evaluating the NAPA program to see if it can get better allowances on purchases made, and asked vendors to work to increase their discounts.
The agency is not alone in seeking collaborative problem-solving. A campusstyle garrison feeding strategy being prepared by the Operations Directorate of the Army Center of Excellence Subsistence envisions expanded meal-serving venues and service times, plus increased convenience and specialized mealserving stations expected to result in stronger utilization and lower overhead.
To make the plan a reality and a success, ACES OD sees an opportunity to work with vendors and incorporate their ideas. A six- to 12-month pilot program to evaluate the plan is set to begin in October 2014.
In the military's culture of judiciousness, DLA Troop Support and ACES OD anticipate collecting a dividend through collaboration with industry partners on wise and careful strategies to achieve financial and other beneficial goals. Such joint efforts can make mutually profitable solutions easier to find, but in order to succeed, both partners need to take full advantage of the valuable few opportunities available, as well as work to cultivate more.