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Air Force seeks partnerships

CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFPN) -- Get Air Force people off the lawn mowers and onto the flightline.

That is the essential goal behind the Air Force's public-private partnership initiatives, according to Fred Kuhn, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations.

"We've got too much money (being spent) and too many people who wear the blue suit doing stuff that is not absolutely critical to the warfighter," Kuhn said.

Kuhn spoke at a conference of the National Association of Installation Developers here recently. The conference brought together nearly 400 community representatives, private sector consultants and military representatives from across the nation to discuss base development and base-community partnerships at active, closed and closing bases.

"To effectively manage and run our installations to support the warfighter, we need to seriously look at leveraging private sector resources so that we can free up Air Force budgeted dollars in direct support of the warfighter," Kuhn said.

"We need to be an effective Department of Defense," he said. "The mission of airmen is to fight wars. Running utility systems, painting buildings and cutting grass are not our primary mission. Dropping (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) down caves is a mission of the U.S. Air Force."

Kuhn cited the recent Brooks City-Base initiative in San Antonio as an example of how a partnership between a community and a base can benefit both entities.

The Brooks City-Base is a partnership between the Air Force and the city of San Antonio through the Brooks Development Authority. The Air Force conveyed the base to the BDA and now leases back property required for mission accomplishment. The city provides municipal and other services while the Air Force focuses on its research mission there.

"At Brooks, now we've got more people working on research and fewer people worried about the height of the grass," Kuhn said.

While the conference included much talk of base realignment and closure, Kuhn is explicit in separating partnering initiatives from BRAC.

"None of this has any relationship whatsoever to BRAC," he said. "We're not thinking about BRAC on these [partnership] projects, we're thinking about saving $8 to 10 million by being a tenant versus a landlord."

Kuhn urged conference attendees to work together for the betterment of both the local community and the Air Force mission.

"Sit down and talk. If it doesn't work out, you walk away. What's to lose? Absolutely nothing!"

Partnerships are not all-or-nothing, one-size-fits-all propositions. Kuhn cites privatized housing and utilities, and local communities' ability to work certain issues at the municipal level. This flexibility facilitates efficiency and lets experts in the private sector manage functions that are not core to the Air Force mission.

The Air Force continues to explore partnerships under current legal authorities. In addition, the law authorizing the 2005 BRAC round authorized each service to attempt two efficient facilities initiatives, which Kuhn said would be similar to the Brooks City-Base initiative.

The Air Force may select two bases in the next few years, Kuhn said. If those test cases prove successful, Kuhn expects legislation that would make it easier for more bases to enter into similar partnerships.

"I would really like to have communities come forward and say they've heard about this. Some communities have come forward and said they're interested in this. Some communities are concerned that it appears that if they want to do this, they're throwing themselves on the mercy of BRAC, because this [efficient facilities initiatives] is in the BRAC law. But the two of them have nothing to do with each other."

There are a number of factors to weigh in evaluating partnerships with communities, Kuhn said. One of the major concerns, particularly after Sept. 11, is force protection.

While security concerns may limit some facilities' ability to enter into partnerships, security may also be an incentive for some bases to allow partners to put facilities in vacant areas of the base security forces must now patrol, Kuhn said.

Another factor for communities is the commitment, but only if it is something they really want to pursue.

"Communities also have to realize this is a long-term endeavor," Kuhn said. "It's not something that's forced on them. This is something you can sit down and try to work cooperatively.

"It's creativity; it's thinking outside the box a little bit." (Courtesy of Air Mobility Command News Service)

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