Personnel center "surges" to keep up with manpower shortfalls

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Christian Michael
  • Air Reserve Personnel Center
Manpower is among the biggest needs in today's Air Force, and the job isn't getting any smaller. While initiatives like Human Capital Transformation are working to improve efficiencies and cut down on waste, simpler efforts such as "surging" help offices low on people keep up with demands of a steady mission.

During a recent surge on Saturday, Jan. 11, Air Reserve Personnel Center members greatly increased normal workday productivity, knocking out more than 3,000 personnel actions. That cut out a little more than 12 percent of the current backlog. Given the heavy workload ARPC faces daily, this is quite an accomplishment.

The types of personnel actions members closed were evaluations, DD 214s, awards and decorations, separations, document fulfillment, points calculations and retirement applications.

"In the readiness world, surging means pulling bodies from all over the organization to meet the needs of the mission," said Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Parker, noncommissioned officer in charge of the evaluation review, appeal board. "Surging, here, is putting in extra hours to get the mission done before the mission starts to fail."

Surging - or overtime - is nothing new, but the frequency here has changed as workloads have increased and manpower decreased.

"We've been doing surge work during the past year since I got here," said Chief Master Sgt. Danny Doucette, superintendent of directorate of personnel transformation. It had been done at ARPC before, but not as regularly as they do now, which is about once a month. "By attrition of personnel, we've had to take care of an increased workload with less people - do more with less."

ARPC regularly rotates its staff members internally to various departments in order to build professional expertise across the spectrum of personnel functions. In order to accomplish the mission, leadership reviews the Total Force Service Center database to see which of its agents have experience or similar training in an under-manned function. They then assign that member temporarily either to the department in need during the working duty day or to join that department for monthly surge Saturdays.

"We have people who are qualified to do a lot of different types of work," said Doucette, "and through movement based on need have done three or four jobs in the center."

Training can be time-consuming and manpower intensive for only temporary work - another reason they try to move members on a regular basis outside of surging - depending on the section, so using people in different areas for surge work is easier.

ARPC not only leans on members assigned, but also brings in reservists on Reserve pay appropriations funds to assist with short term manpower shortages. However, with recent reductions in funding, bringing in extra manpower isn't always dependable enough to get the job done.

Shifting RPA'ers and regular staff is only part of the solution. The other part is the surge itself, held on a Saturday, that operates free of the distractions common to a normal workday.

"The phone calls we receive from the field takes up a lot of time during the normal duty day," said Parker. "Not having to answer the phones allows for almost twice the normal amount of work to be completed."

The freedom from phone distractions and focus on ramping up performance makes a difference.

"It's an efficiency," said Doucette. "So, the process we're doing can be done better, smarter."

Parker agreed.

"I think surging at least once a month is going to help significantly when we talk numbers," she said. "The amount of cases we close on a surge weekend is as high as a (Unit Training Assembly) weekend. So surging keeps us ahead of the curve."

And surging has a side effect, a positive one common to teams who bind together to get the mission complete.

"The morale increases," said Doucette. "When a bunch of people work together, and they know there's a goal, say, to knock a thousand cases out, and they get to it, our Airmen can see that tangible goal, as opposed to always having a never-ending workload. It's nice to have an obtainable goal."

The chief has offered small tokens of appreciation for superior performers ranging from letters of appreciation to chief's coins - a military tradition for outstanding performance - for both surge-day and normal duty-day work.

"I can't compare (different departments), but they enjoy some friendly competition," he said.

For some, the appreciation goes a long way. For others, like Parker, it's all part of her service as an American Airman.

"The concept of performing additional duty is part of being in the military," said Parker. "It is a sacrifice we choose to take on when we take the oath."

Whether they serve the mission out of duty or out of team spirit, Doucette says he's proud of the fine men and women he serves.

"These people are doing a lot of work for our customers," he said. "Every one of them goes above and beyond. Everyone is in that people business, just like the commander's core principle: 'if you take care of your people, they will take care of the mission.'"