Airmen Powered by Innovation projected to save over $120M

The Air Force secretary, while championing change across the service, has made the Make Every Dollar Count campaign one of her top three priorities. At the heart of the campaign is the Airmen Powered by Innovation program. 

Since 2014, API has received 6,791 ideas from Airmen. Of those submissions, 192 have been approved by Air Force leadership and have accumulated $121.3 million in projected savings. Several of the approved initiatives have allowed Airmen to concentrate on their core missions, thus saving invaluable resources beyond budget figures.

“Harnessing Airmen’s creativity has always been vital to the Air Force’s ability to improve our enterprise,” said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “Through API, we aim to capture our Airmen’s spirits by fostering their ideas with the leadership support and oversight necessary to achieve success.” 

The program, founded by retired Gen. Larry Spencer in April 2014 and now sponsored by the secretary and vice chief of staff, is intended to be an engine for innovation across the Air Force. To encourage innovation, the Air Force challenges Airmen to find new innovative ways to improve and challenge legacy processes. 

Operating under the theme “encourage innovation, empower Airmen and implement efficiencies,” API is geared toward empowering Airmen to share innovative ideas that affect cost savings, quality, productivity, cycle time, process improvement, and morale from the ground up to Air Force senior decision makers. These ideas are evaluated and potentially implemented, helping make the Air Force more efficient and effective.

“I am continually inspired by the creativity and ingenuity of our Airmen across the total force. The technicians, the Airmen really doing the work at the base level, can make remarkable changes in processes Air Force-wide,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein, the Air Force vice chief of staff. “They continue to be our most valuable resource.”

All ideas, ranging from minor process improvements to large organizational changes, contribute to the API program’s success.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for Airmen to make a difference in their organization,” said Maj. Kevin Etherton, the chief of secretary of the Air Force programs and initiatives. 

For example, Erik Figi, who works for the Space and Missile Systems Center History Office at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, came up with the idea to modify the pins used to play back 16 and 35mm film for digital preservation. The film, dating back to 1954, experienced levels of degradation and shrinkage that caused the existing pins to pick at and break the perforations within the film. Figi’s idea was to modify the pins and taper them to compensate for the shrinkage in the film. The idea was adopted and the Air Force was able to avoid the cost of purchasing new equipment, representing a $200,000 in projected savings. 

Another innovative idea approved through the aircraft maintenance community was submitted by Brian Grissom and Eugene Peabody from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Their submission suggested employing hardness critical items from various aircraft to supplement B-2 Spirit aircraft requirements. Understanding the B-2 and certain F-15 Eagle modules are built by Raytheon at the same time, on the same line, with the same components, all to HCI Level 1 standards, Grissom and Peabody submitted their idea to leverage F-15 stocks. Using a flowchart and visual inspection criteria to verify critical hardness standards, this process would enable the use of on-hand items to sustain the B-2. The proposed process change is projected to save $63 million.

At the tactical level of the program is the API cell, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. The API cell manages and tracks every idea from submission through evaluation and implementation. 

A common question from the field is, “I submitted my idea and it was returned as commonly received — what does that mean?” This means the idea has already been submitted or closely resembled a previously submitted idea. In many cases, the Air Force is aware of the issue and has already taken steps to address the issue.

“One of the ideas we’ve seen submitted by several Airmen is using solar panels to save energy,” Etherton said. “We’ve also had over 30 submissions with ideas to change format, layout and content of the enlisted and officer performance reports.”

Some other examples of commonly received submissions include: 21 ideas to allow females to wear “locs” style hair; 17 ideas to transition to LED light bulbs; 17 ideas to adjust computer equipment replacement cycles; and recommendations to cancel Tops in Blue because of the required manpower and associated cost.

“I recommend using the search function on the API portal site before submitting an idea,” Etherton said. “You can do a keyword search and see if your idea or similar idea has already been evaluated. Many of the commonly received ideas have been addressed or are being reviewed at the senior Air Force levels, and, in some cases, ideas are governed by policy external to the Air Force.”

Air Force senior leaders encourage every member to continue to submit ideas and suggest smarter ways to do business. 

“The success of money and time-saving innovations is critical to the Air Force’s ability to operate in this fiscally constrained environment,” James said. “Through the Airmen Powered by Innovation program, we continue to harness innovative ideas and reinvest in our Air Force’s most critical assets — our Airmen.”

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