Air Force waging war against bureaucracy by rescinding instructions, decentralizing acquisition

The Air Force is not only in combat operations overseas, it is also waging war against red tape.

After taking office in May, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson ordered a two year review of the instructions and policies to reduce the rules and outdated procedures airmen must follow. Wilson said the Air Force rescinded at least 100 instructions since the initial announcement last August.

“We are prioritizing the ones that are outdated and actually track them every month,” Wilson said during a March 30 Air Force Association event in Washington. “The biggest challenge we have been facing is in personnel and operations. We need to get those right and get them understandable and then get the approval authorities, the waiver authorities at the lowest appropriate level.”

Wilson said that although these regulations are annoying for airmen and eliminating them can free up some time, the real reason for undertaking the task is the service will need to give airmen more responsibility in future wars. Communications may be degraded from leaders to lower level airmen as a result.

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“We don’t expect in future conflict to have the exquisite command, control and communication we’ve had over the last 27 years of combat,” Wilson said. “We will need airmen to take what they know and take mission orders and execute the mission using their best judgement for the circumstances at the time. If we expect them to work that way in wartime then we need to treat them that way in peacetime.”

The Air Force has more than 1,400 instructions under review, which altogether account for more than 130,000 compliance items at the lowest levels.

The service’s goal is not only to get rid of outdated and unneeded rules airmen must follow, but also to make them easier to understand.

“I insisted the remaining ones be written in English, a lot of them weren’t,” Wilson said referring to the legal language many instructions are written in. “It’s nice to be able to read a draft instruction that I can actually understand and that I might expect an 18-year-old to understand as well.”

The Air Force found at least 30,000 of the compliance items need to go all the way up the service headquarters to be changed.

“We have an instruction on how to build an obstacle course,” Wilson said. “My guess is if they need to build an obstacle course, they can probably figure it out.”

The Air Force is also pushing its acquisition authorities down to lower levels with new powers given to the services by Congress over the past couple of years. The service is also taking on new programs as part of a Defense Department-wide effort to push acquisition programs down to the services.

DoD pushed 14 of its 19 space programs down to the Air Force.

“I’ve pushed all of those programs lower in our own bureaucracy,” Wilson said. “I retain no acquisition authority myself and our Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Will Roper is moving out quickly. We need to empower our program managers so they spend more time managing their programs and less time managing the Pentagon and we are determined to make sure that reform sticks.”