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Secretary Deborah Lee James: Plan to cut airmen's extra duties coming in weeks

The Air Force is about to start taking a machete to the annoying, burdensome "queep" duties that are often piled on top of airmen's typical responsibilities.

In an Aug. 3 interview with Air Force Times, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said she and Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein will finalize a review of 61 additional duties imposed on airmen through official Air Force instructions. Some of those duties will be eliminated outright, James said, and others will be pushed off onto support staff to free up airmen to do their day-to-day jobs.

But it likely won't be a clean sweep, James said. Some of the 61 jobs on the list could be deemed so important that they stay in airmen's hands.

"The idea is to give back some of this precious time to airmen," James said. "I'm sure they all had a good reason for being when they were instituted. But the fact is, they have been increased and increased and increased to the point where, now, this is quite burdensome. Airmen say this;, they've said it to me directly. We know it from our survey data as well."

James said she hopes to cut as much busywork as possible within 90 days of the review's announcement. The process will also include revisions to "clean up" the AFIs, she said.

"We want to get started with this as soon as possible," James said. "We will be looking to implement as many of them as we can after about 90 days, but understanding that all won't be able to be done so quickly."

James mentioned duties such as self-aid and buddy care monitors and unit tax representatives as possible candidates for elimination.

But she pledged the Air Force will continue looking for other wasteful duties to cut after it's done with the first batch of 61 duties. Step two, James said, will be to take a look at the computer-based training required of airmen and see what can be eliminated there.

"It won't be the be all and end all, and it won't be the end of process, rather it's just the start," James said. "We're starting by looking ourselves in the mirror, our own Air Force instructions, and then we're going to take it from there."

James also said oOther additional duties have been imposed by Defense Department guidance and by legislation, she noted.

To help lessen the burdens on airmen, the Air Force is looking to beef up the support staff at the squadron level so it that can take on some needed duties, James said.

"This has been acutely felt at the squadron level," James said. "We want to, over time, return more support element to squadrons in the Air Force."

And James said she expects to set up a working group to oversee this effort and make sure unintended consequences don’t crop up.

"The law of unintended consequences, if we're not careful, could be that airmen are voluntold to do things rather than simply having it in an AFI as a must-do," James said. "We don't want that to happen. So we have to be careful on the implementation."

James said her experience running businesses such as SAIC have taught her to watch out for such pitfalls when trying to enact these kind of changes.

"Anytime you try to eliminate something, it's very, very difficult and it can creep in, in ways that you don't suspect," James said. "So we're mindful of that. But this is a sincere effort to get started, and attack a problem that we've heard over and over and over again from our airmen is very burdensome."

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