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Air Force undersecretary testifies about efficiencies before House committee

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force undersecretary testified before the House Armed Services Committee July 22 about how Air Force officials are working with their Defense Department counterparts to control spending and transform business operations and create efficiencies.

Also testifying were Elizabeth McGrath, the DOD deputy chief management officer; Joseph Westphal, the Army undersecretary; and Robert O. Work, the Navy undersecretary.

Air Force officials, along with officials from the DOD, Army and Navy, are working hard to stretch their budget to support operations, but not at the expense of mission readiness, said Erin C. Conaton, who also serves as the service's chief management officer.

"All of us put mission first," Ms. Conaton said. "So this is about the work our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are out there doing every day."

Ms. Conaton said business transformation and DOD's mission go hand-in-hand.

"Business transformation can't be separate from that," she said. "It has to be very much aligned with what we're asking service members and our civilians to do on a regular basis.

"I think whether it's the business transformation plan (Congress has) or our own thinking as chief management officers," Ms. Conaton said, "it's important to align our business objectives with what the services or the department ... is doing overall."

Ms. Conaton then explained how she approaches her job as the Air Force's CMO.

"So, as I've been thinking about the chief management officer job, I think first, 'what's the mission that we're asking -- in our case Airmen -- to do, and how do we get processes and systems that help support that?'" Ms. Conaton said.

Ms. Conaton's appearance marked her first appearance before the committee she previously served as staff director. She became undersecretary March 15.

She thanked her counterparts for their support as she has stepped into the CMO role, noting her fellow witnesses "have been outstanding in terms of not only partnering but lending the benefit of their expertise in the department over the period of time they've been there."

Along with business transformation, Ms. Conaton said the Air Force and other services are working together to improve efficiencies throughout the DOD.

"We are partners with the rest of my colleagues in trying to find a way -- again mission first -- to get as much money and capability into the force structure, modernization and readiness sides of the account," Ms. Conaton said.

"I think that is what's motivating the work that (Defense) Secretary (Robert M.) Gates has put forward and it's certainly motivating the work that (Air Force) Secretary (Michael B.) Donley and (Chief of Staff) General (Norton) Schwartz are undertaking for the Air Force," she added.

The undersecretary highlighted the level of leadership involved in transforming business operations.

"The CMO construct relies on strong leadership from the top," Ms. Conaton said. "The fact that we have secretaries and chiefs of our respective services who are committed to not only make this organization construct work, but also to help further the business transformation objectives that we're working on makes a big deal."

For the Air Force, Ms. Conaton said Air Force Officials use the Air Force Council to make budget decisions and "adjudicate policy debates that are occurring inside the service."

The Air Force Council is the Air Force's governance board. It is composed of senior civilian and military members from the Air Staff.

"It's also the group we are using for governance of overall business transformation and the efficiencies initiative," Ms. Conaton said. "It's critical that all of the people who are involved, whether it is our assistant secretaries or the deputy chiefs of staff on the Air Staff side, are invested in and committed to working these efforts."