In search of savings, bases look to root out waste
Eric Garcia, a retired Marine Chief Warrant Officer 4, military spouse and regular patron of the Robinson Barracks gym, grabs a towel as he signs in before his workout, March 21. The Army will soon no longer be providing towels for patrons of its fitness centers around Europe as part of an effort to save money.
STUTTGART, Germany — Soon, the white towels conveniently stacked at Army gyms around Europe will be gone — a casualty of budgetary belt tightening.
At some Navy facilities in Italy, workers could notice a chill in the air as thermostats get turned down from 70 to 66 degrees as part of an effort to save on heating costs.
Commissaries in Europe, meanwhile, have begun receiving flash-frozen deli meat by sea rather than air, a cost saving measure that has resulted in product shortages in some locations.
It’s all part of an effort to find efficiencies as the military’s decade-old war-time boom gives way to a new era of austerity. Military commands are under pressure to root out inefficiencies and achieve savings wherever they can be found due to across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration.
The side effects of the budget crunch, which will soon intensify as the full impact of sequestration begins to be felt, are rippling across installations in Europe in ways both big and small.
U.S. Army Europe is already grappling with a $166 million budget shortfall this year.
On the one hand, there are the much publicized big-ticket items such as the cancelation of some military exercises with partner nations in Europe. Then there are the smaller items, little cuts here and there that are surfacing at posts across Europe.
That means scrounging for savings in easy-to-overlook places. For the Army, getting rid of free towel service at fitness centers stretching from Baumholder to Vilseck will save about $500,000 annually, according to Installation Management Command-Europe.
“Providing the service requires personnel and associated laundering costs, time and funding which could be better invested in equipment maintenance and customer service,” IMCOM-E spokesman Dan Thompson said in an e-mail. “We are always looking at ways to stretch our dollars and know we have a daily responsibility to identify and minimize nonessential costs regardless of the fiscal climate.”
Though the Army in Europe is looking at a host of cost saving measures, Thompson said, it is premature to detail what kind of savings those efforts will generate. “We’re still assessing the overall cost reductions and gained efficiencies enterprise wide,” he said.
As IMCOM-E continues to look for efficiencies in the face of the budget crunch, its garrison commanders also are hunting for ways to cut costs.
For example, at the U.S. Army Garrison in Stuttgart, military police are planning a crackdown on violators of a garbage dumping policy that prohibits off-post rubbish from being brought on-base. Garbage disposal costs for the garrison amount to about $1.3 million each year, according to Mark Howell, a spokesman for the Stuttgart garrison. While it’s unclear what portion of the cost is connected to garbage rule breakers, the garrison is planning to eliminate two community trash collection locations as a deterrent.
“It’s always been kind of a look the other way situation, but now, with trying to cut left and right, the MPs are going to try and enforce the policy heavily,” Howell said.
Violators of the garbage dumping rule will be subject to administrative actions starting with a citation on the first offense, but that could escalate to loss of on-post privileges for a period of time, Howell said.
In the days ahead, a clearer picture of what other on-post services will be scaled back should emerge as garrisons learn who exactly may be subject to furloughs.
“When furlough letters go out, there is going to have to be a quick turn around on how we are going to run everything on 20 percent cuts,” Howell said.
It remains unclear how furloughs will affect a range of on-base services, such as post office hours of operation, commuter bus service programs and child care services.
At Navy bases worldwide, cost-cutting measures are aimed at saving the sea service $1.16 billion toward “facilities, sustainment, restoration and modernization” (FSRM) projects, and $495 million for “base operations support.” For the Navy operating in Europe, Southwest Asia and Africa, their contribution is about $9 million in FSRM projects and $20 million in base operations support, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. David Benham said.
Base operations projects include possible deferment of airfield equipment maintenance projects and possible cuts in operating hours; and reducing port hours of operation. Sailors also can anticipate some base beautification projects to be put on hold.
At a recent town hall meeting in Stuttgart for U.S. European Command personnel, Maj. Gen. Mark Barrett, EUCOM’s chief of staff, said personnel will have to be prepared to help pick up the slack as the effects of all the cuts take hold.
“If we have less [trash or cleaning services] on post, we’re going to have to pick up after ourselves.”
Stars and Stripes reporters Sandra Jontz, Adam Mathis and Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.