By Gail Parsons, 1st Inf. Div. PostMarch 27, 2019
The value of partnerships in cost savings and efficiency was center stage at the Feb. 27 Flint Hills, Fort Riley, Army Community Partnership workshop.
Dozens of community leaders from the Flint Hills region spent several hours at Riley's Conference Center collaborating, brainstorming potential partnerships.
The day started with remarks by Ben Van Becelaere, director, Plans, Analysis and Integration Office and Col. Stephen Shrader, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Riley commander, who welcomed the guests and laid the foundation for the morning's discussions.
"Most of you in the room who been around the Army for a while, you know that sometimes these initiatives, realistically, have a three to five-year window of opportunity," Van Becelaere said. "In three to five years, the focus might not be on that so much and it'll go to something else. So, what we want to do with you, and partnering with you, is take advantage of this window of opportunity we have."
He encouraged the partners to focus on putting as many innovative opportunities in place as possible and get them operating. That includes looking at ideas that were brought up in the past, if they were still valid ideas -- and find ways to implement them.
"Many of you in the room were part of those 2017 partnership workshops -- great initiatives, we generated a lot of ideas, and we had some wins," Van Becelaere said. "But there's one aspect there … that was a partnership blueprint that was produced at the end of those workshops. And I share that with you, just as a reminder that … we're not starting from scratch.
"New ideas are very welcome," he said. "That's why we're here. But there are also ideas that were generated previously in those workshops that we haven't capitalized on yet."
Shrader echoed some of Van Becelaere's sentiments and added the importance of the partnerships as dollars dwindle both on Fort Riley and in the civilian world.
"The money does not flow the same as it used to," Shrader said.
However, the Army's priorities remain focused on readiness and modernization. To modernize the Soldier on the battlefield requires cutting funds in other areas. To meet the priorities, funds are shifted across the force, he said.
"Our priorities still remain focused on that readiness and our ability to provide infrastructure and Soldier and family programs," Shrader said. "We just have to do more creatively because I don't have the same dollar bills I used to have.
"We are taking cuts -- five percent cuts essentially - (table of distribution and allowances) cuts … and contract services cuts that have already gone through the garrison and Fort Riley," he said. "That's about $462,000 that has already been cut out of our contract service capability."
Those cuts are why having the flexibility to do intergovernmental service agreements are important to Fort Riley. At the same time, it opens up opportunity to find efficient ways to solve problems.
"It's not always monetary benefits," Shrader said. "Sometimes it's a structural benefit and that's what we're looking for, we're looking for innovative creative ideas from everybody."
Following the introduction of the workshop, participants divided into working groups to begin their brainstorming and planning.
Kelley Paskow, PAIO, moved among the groups watching and listening.
"We're very, very happy with the participation and the energy and how many ideas folks from the community and Fort Riley are having," she said. "I've been kind of wandering between the tables and … there's been a lot of talk about how we can re-engage on ideas from before that we weren't able to move forward with."
The first ACP was in 2017 and from that workshop Fort Riley and Manhattan successfully initiated a rock salt agreement, which has saved both communities funding. She is excited about the potential for more partnerships.
"There have been some changes at higher echelon at [Installation Management Command] and the [Department of the Army] level that enables us to really enter into these partnerships more," she said. "It's time to bring all of those working groups back together to take a look at where we are and some of the ideas that we came up with back then and figure out where we can go."
Fort Riley reached out to the subject matter experts in the surrounding communities and invited them to the table to choose one or two projects to work on at a time.
"As opposed to a big laundry list of things, we want to focus in on a handful," she said. "Everybody's busy, everybody has limited times and resources. Then once you get a win with one of those, or you figure out if you can or not, you can move on to the next one. You can focus your resources elsewhere and keep the program and new ideas going."
Alan Hynek, chief of conservation, Directorate of Public Works, was one of the people at the public works table. He said it was encouraging to see the cooperation between all the communities and has seen a shift in the willingness for all the agencies to get together.
"For a long time, it's always been a little bit of a barrier to get some of these things done," he said. "But, I think everybody in the room can see that there's opportunities to save not only money but manpower to get things done and get it done in a more efficient manner."
Public works in most communities is one of the largest government organizations with a wide variety of responsibilities. Narrowing down the focus was a little difficult.
"There are so many different things that we that we are concerned about," he said. "This time of year, there's snow removal, potholes in the road created from all the snow. So, it's about finding ways that we can work together and really come up with some pretty good solutions that not only work for Fort Riley but work is for everybody."
The top three issues his group came up with to work on was recycling, buying commodities and sign shops.
Behind the Public Works table, a group of emergency management professionals addressed some of their pressing needs.
Junction City Fire Chief Terry Johnson said his group's focus was trying to find ways all the agencies can work more efficiently together to provide better services and improve emergency response and maintenance.
"There are several things that we came up with," he said. "One that we've been working on since the first round of 2017 is Junction City providing maintenance for emergency services."
Regardless of what the next step ends up being for his working group, just being able to have everyone come together and start the process was a win, he said.
"When an installation is willing to open its doors and talk and work with communities on the outside, and being a prior veteran myself from the Army watching this process is amazing," Johnson said. "We have some really great people on all sides making this happen. I'm really proud to be a part of it."
Each of the working groups submitted the projects the participants felt were most important and had the most likelihood of being able to be accomplished. They also set, or tentatively set, their next group meetings to take the day's discussions to the next level. A few of the ideas that were discussed included:
Medical Working Group: When unit deployments result in downtime, Irwin Army Community Hospital could provide healthcare staff to assist community hospitals that are short staffed.
Local hospitals can provide IACH Staff with workload/training and certification opportunities.
The hospitals can also develop resource sharing opportunities to provide assistance during disaster/emergency situations.
Recreation Group: This group discussed developing an overall shared campaign, having a combined marketing effort and sharing the use of facilities.
They can also look at sharing services such as landscaping and mowing and field maintenance
Public Works Group: Public works leaders looked at ways to improve recycling, purchase commodities such as gravel and noxious weed chemicals, work on potholes and share resources when making signs.
Emergency Services Group: Leaders looked at ways to consolidate contracts for shredding services and develop regional training opportunities. They discussed formalizing a current memorandum of understanding in relation to confinement services and ways to improve computer-aided dispatch among the agencies.
Education Group: This group focused on life skills learning, performing a needs assessment and finding ways to exchange services and resources.