Agreement workshop to pave way for new Joint Base Lewis-McChord
May 8, 2009
By Rich Bartell
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - There is a maxim that states: The job isn't finished until the paperwork is complete. That maxim applies to the recent Joint Base Lewis-McChord Memorandum of Agreement Workshop.
During the four-day event held at the Fort Lewis American Lake Community Center, representatives from Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base and numerous Department of Defense agencies hammered out a document that will lead to the creation of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
For more than three years, 14 groups from both bases have prepared for the establishment of JBLM. Virtually every aspect of running a joint base was studied with an investment of thousands of hours focusing on 49 critical installation-support functions.
This intense and complex planning effort encompasses the consolidation of workforce, legal, logistic, property and financial issues.
The culmination of the workshop resulted in a JBLM MOA, a document nearly five inches thick. By Sept. 30, the vice chiefs of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force will formalize the agreement with their signatures, paving the legal path for the start of Joint Base Lewis McChord Jan. 31, 2010.
More than 250 people attended the MOA workshop, some from as far away as Washington, D.C., representing both services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Col. Cynthia Murphy, Fort Lewis garrison commander, and Col. Jeffrey L. Stephenson, McChord and 62nd Airlift Wing commander, represented their respective commands.
According to many participants, the workshop was a success and forged stronger bonds between the two installations that will soon combine.
"The single most important success of the workshop is that by building trust and mutual understanding we strengthened the partnership between Fort Lewis and McChord," said Greta Powell, director of the Fort Lewis Joint Integration Office. Powell was the moderator for the MOA workshop and the JIO planned, coordinated, set up and ran the event.
Creation of a joint base MOA is extremely complex. Some of the biggest issues were in dealing with employees, budgets and real estate.
The ins and outs of civilian employment concern many people on both installations.
Michelle Mitchell, regional director of the Army's Western Region Civilian Human Resources Agency, said McChord and Fort Lewis representatives were well prepared for the workshop. Mitchell is responsible for 21 Army civilian personnel advisory centers, known as CPACs, with nearly 50,000 civilian and non-appropriated fund employees.
"There is a high level of involvement by both of the human resources chiefs," said Mitchell.
"They both know each other's processes and procedures. It is obvious there is a good communication flow between the Army and the Air Force."
Even as a subject matter expert, Mitchell is learning from the workshop process.
"There is a value in joint bases that I hadn't seen before. Jointness can be a way to better serve our military through joint efforts. This MOA workshop has given me a broader perspective. It's been a good learning experience."
Looking forward for JBLM, Mitchell said there may be more jobs for civilians.
"There is a potential for a recruitment surge. However, that will become clearer as we move forward," said Mitchell.
"As far as the human resources issues go, the JBLM workshop has been a very collaborative effort."
Robert Urich, office of the Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, praised the JBLM workshop. His area of expertise is real property. According to Urich, the real estate of both installations will become the responsibility of the new joint base command.
Urich is a veteran of several joint base MOA workshops in locations as diverse as Hawaii, Alaska and South Carolina.
"This is without a doubt one of the most well organized MOA workshops I have attended," said Urich.
"It's absolutely evident that there has been extensive preparation by Fort Lewis and McChord work groups for this MOA event. Additionally, logistics of the workshop have enabled work of this week to be effective and productive," said Urich
He said the biggest real property challenge for the new base is recognizing real property issues beyond space inside the fencelines of the two installations. There are several outlying sites that need to be addressed, as well.
"This is a common challenge that we have seen in many of the other joint bases."
Urich said there are a variety of agreements for leases and out leases for both installations. He said several agencies and organizations use and lease property owned by Army and Air Force as well as sites that are leased by McChord and Fort Lewis.
"The real property functional leads at Fort Lewis and McChord are absolutely subject matter experts and they are masters of their craft. They understand all the issues and needs associated with real property. They've worked very effectively together. So along with the services provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I have no doubt the real property aspects of the joint base are in good hands," said Urich.
Real property is just one of the areas that illustrate the complexity of moving toward JBLM.
Budgeting and the art of planning for the future was a PB-14 matter. PB-14, or Presidential Budget process 14, addresses how much it costs to run and resource the joint base.
Army Lt. Col. Terry Boyd of the Department of the Army Assistant Chief Staff for Installation Management has five joint base MOA workshops. He worked with the PB-14 group.
"I'd rate this workshop as an A," said Boyd.
"Planning and coordination are great all the way to the action officer level. There were some issues that were identified and addressed. This has been a very successful workshop and it has done exactly what we hoped it would do, which is elevate decisions and determine exactly what the requirements are as we go forward."
Boyd said JBLM will have efficiencies down the road.
"With Fort Lewis and McChord being so close to one another, over time there will be business practices adopted that will increase the efficiency of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Maximum efficiencies will take a few years, probably about five years. In terms of overall joint base environment, Lewis-McChord will become what we call the gold standard of joint bases," said Boyd.
He added that the transformation to a joint base will be invisible to most people.
"The military mission won't be impacted, and the services will be the same or better. However, in about five years, I'll bet that most people will step back and say that we are a lot better off being Joint Base Lewis-McChord," said Boyd.
In her final remarks, Murphy was optimistic about the future of JBLM.
"We're going to make it. I feel confident as I leave this command that we are going to make it," said Murphy.
"We'll have the right resources in the right places to make a difference and to make this the best joint base that we possibly can."
Rich Bartell works in the Fort Lewis Public Affairs Office; his story appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.