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Straight Talk: Base support services

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Civil engineering, like many base support organizations, has had to make tough decisions in recent years in supporting base customers because of Air Force-level manpower and budget decisions. In this latest Straight Talk, I will address a question submitted about CE services and response time.

Q I work in one of the 1600 buildings on base. In one of the restrooms, two sinks have been clogged for nearly two weeks. What is the maintenance and repair priority on this type of issue?

A Thank you for the opportunity to highlight civil engineering’s levels of service. By way of background, the Air Force has standardized the delivery of installation support services, including CE services, so that Airmen and other customers will have common, affordable experiences and expectations from base to base. CE reports their levels of service to the Air Force twice per year, and the Air Force can make adjustments as it balances risk with budgetary and manpower constraints.

In the case of plumbing responses, the Air Force deliberately dealt with reductions in civil engineering manpower and budgets via the implementation of enterprise-wide Civil Engineer Transformation Program Action Directive 12-03 in late 2012. This PAD shifted the focus from corrective maintenance to emergency and preventative maintenance. It also established a new work prioritization methodology that took into account not only the urgency of the work, but also the risk to the mission. As a result, response time standards were eliminated for all but emergency work. Under this work prioritization methodology, clogged sinks are not considered high priority if other sinks are available. We typically ask the facility manager to post a “Do not use” sign until CE can respond. Building occupants can often avoid clogging sinks by refraining from putting coffee grounds or food waste down the sink’s drain; we often find this type of debris is the root cause of clogged sinks. Food waste should always be disposed of in the trash. It is also very important to alert your facility manager immediately when a facility issue is discovered so that we can get to the work as quickly as possible.

A review of recent clogged sink calls for Building 1612 show an average response time of 4.7 days from request initiation to closure. Despite the elimination of non-emergency response standards, these response times are well within the previously-enforced standards for this type of requirement.

Lastly, due to civilian hiring freezes in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the 66th Civil Engineering Division, which is comprised entirely of civilian employees, currently operates with a significant number of vacancies. For example, CE had a single plumber for the entire installation from October 2015 until January 2017. CE manpower shortages accentuate the need to strictly adhere to the aforementioned work prioritization methodology so that we are focusing our limited resources where the Air Force has directed.

If you have a question and are not sure where to find the answer, I encourage you to contact the Straight Talk line at 781-225-1380 or by email at Hanscom.straightalk@us.af.mil.