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bob7947

GAO to Air Force: Take Your Dirty Plates and Utensils Home!

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I received an e-mail yesterday afternoon that provided a GAO appropriations decision.  I've added a link to the decision under the quote.  What do you think of the decision?

Quote

Air Force Reserve Command may not use appropriated funds to purchase disposable plates and utensils where potable water was not available in the building but was provided via bottled water. Disposable plates and utensils, like food, are personal expenses of individual employees. An agency may not use appropriated funds to purchase items considered personal expenses without specific statutory authority to do so, unless the agency can demonstrate that the provision of items that would otherwise constitute a personal expense directly advances the agency’s statutory mission and the benefit accruing to the agency clearly outweighs the ancillary benefit to the employee.

Air Force Reserve Command--Disposable Plates and Utensils, B-329316: Nov 29, 2017

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I like it.  The government shouldn't have to spend one more penny than it needs to.  If I were in that situation, I would not view it as the government's job to provide me with a clean plate and fork to eat the food I bought and prepared myself.  I can either wash my own dishes at home at the end of the day (I already do) or break down and spend $2 for a 100-count of paper plates.  I would be different if folks were stuck in the command post 24 hours a day for days at a time, but here they are just on 12 hour shifts.  It amazes me the lengths folks will go to, in order to try and get taxpayers to pay for some of these types of things to be purchased.  Like folks not wanting to by their own $3 box of tissues or a $1 bottle of hand sanitizer.

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The GAO said personnel could use the "water provided" to wash their dishes.  Presumably, this means the bottled water the AF is providing.  I wonder what the result would have been if the employees chose this option and ran up the water bill so that it greatly exceeded what the disposable items cost. 

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4 minutes ago, jwomack said:

Agree with GAO except where they implied employees could wash their dishes with the bottled water.

I saw that too.  I wonder if their rationale was that employees have otherwise been able to wash their dishes in the community sink with water out of the tap and that it would be okay for them to use the bottled water for the same purpose.  If so, and if I were the local commander, I'd not allow water to be used for that purpose if it would significantly increase the cost to the government.

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Would this principle be applied in a combat zone?  Never served, but I imagine there are times a soldier can not purchase things even if he wanted to.  

Nevertheless a commanding officer could purchase the plates personally.  That would be a good move.

 

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You don't need plates to eat MREs.  Further, funds are available to feed troops in dining facilities, which includes buying of treys, plates and cutlery.  However, when I was an adviser in Viet Nam, we were not part of the Army subsistence supply system.  Therefore, we had to buy our own food but kitchen equipment, dishes and cutlery were provided.  Of course, we always had our mess kits and C rations as a fall back.  I don't know if something similar is happening today.

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And people wonder why the best and the brightest want to work in Silicon Valley (or equivalent) where this question wouldn't even arise. Anything (within reason) that improves morale and/or reduces employee non-work time and/or reduces employee non-work stress will be provided. Why? Because those companies want their employees focused on the work in front of them.

How much money was spent adjudicating this decision? How much time was taken from other, presumably more important things?

We talk about fixing defense acquisition but this is a symptom of the dysfunction, right here.

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5 hours ago, here_2_help said:

And people wonder why the best and the brightest want to work in Silicon Valley (or equivalent) where this question wouldn't even arise. Anything (within reason) that improves morale and/or reduces employee non-work time and/or reduces employee non-work stress will be provided.

Well, I would think you were pretty silly if your morale were seriously hurt because your employer wouldn't buy you paper plates and plastic utensils.

To the extent that the people working in Silicon Valley are the best and the brightest, they're there because (1) they like the work and (2) they can afford to buy a house in San Francisco.

BTW, David Halberstam meant "the best and the brightest" to be ironic.

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1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

Well, I would think you were pretty silly if your morale were seriously hurt because your employer wouldn't buy you paper plates and plastic utensils.

To the extent that the people working in Silicon Valley are the best and the brightest, they're there because (1) they like the work and (2) they can afford to buy a house in San Francisco.

BTW, David Halberstam meant "the best and the brightest" to be ironic.

Vern, we disagree.

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Disagree about what? That I'd think you were silly? That the best and the brightest are working in Silicon Valley because they like the work and are paid really well? That they're paid enough to buy a house in San Francisco? What David Halberstam meant by "the best and the brightest"? 

I've got sources for my assertion about Halberstam. :lol:

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Vern, we disagree regarding the importance of employee morale. We disagree that morale is unimportant, or that it can be affected by little things, such as providing disposable plates and plastic silverware. We disagree that the Department Defense is suffering from a loss of cutting edge technology, as so many bright young folks opt for high-tech jobs in places such as Silicon Valley instead of joining the Federal civil service or joining a government contractor in a research & development capacity.

We disagree that this little thing, this ankle-biter of a decision, doesn't matter.

Because I believe that it does matter. It's a symptom of something bigger. If the Department of Defense ever wants to regain its high-tech leadership, if it ever wants to start attracting the next Feynman, then it needs to address these sorts of things. Young people with STEM degrees have options, and right now working for the DoD is close to the bottom of their list. Don't take my word for it. Any Google search will turn up lots of citations discussing industry's anxiety about where the next generation of STEM employees are coming from.

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2 hours ago, here_2_help said:

Vern, we disagree regarding the importance of employee morale. We disagree that morale is unimportant, or that it can be affected by little things, such as providing disposable plates and plastic silverware. We disagree that the Department Defense is suffering from a loss of cutting edge technology, as so many bright young folks opt for high-tech jobs in places such as Silicon Valley instead of joining the Federal civil service or joining a government contractor in a research & development capacity.

We disagree that this little thing, this ankle-biter of a decision, doesn't matter.

That's all a crock.

  • We don't disagree regarding the importance of employee morale. What we disagree about is what should affect it.
  • You don't know whether we disagree about DOD suffering from a loss of cutting edge technology, because I never said anything about that.
  • I also never said where I stood on the GAO decision, so you don't know that we disagree about that, either.

I can see that the GAO decision has upset you. Well, I think that grownups with jobs they like don't take a morale nose dive because their employer won't give them free paper plates and plastic forks.

Sure, there are a lot of silly government rules. But a lot of brilliant people work for the government under those rules and don't think anything about them unless they keep them from doing their jobs. Paper plates and plastic spoons? Bah!

The bright boys and girls in Silicon Valley who don't want to work for DOD feel that way because they don't want to work in what they think would be a nimrod military bureaucracy. They don't want to work with people they think will be bozos. They don't want to have to submit reams of paper when they want to try something and then have to wait weeks or months for a decision. They don't want their work hung up by absurd procedures and government shutdowns. They don't want to be told, over and over, what they can't do. Some of them just don't like the military and don't want to work on developing tools for killing people. Some of them just don't trust government. You make a complicated problem seem to arise from petty matters. 

Bob was being provocative when he posted the GAO decision.

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On 12/1/2017 at 10:34 AM, apsofacto said:

Would this principle be applied in a combat zone?

"Combat zone" probably doesn't mean what you might think it means. There are plenty of Camp Cupcakes in combat zones. Here is the official DOD definition:

Quote

combat zone — 1. That area required by combat forces for the conduct of operations. 2. The territory forward of the Army rear area boundary. See also combat area; communications zone.

Here is the official definition of rear area:

Quote

rear area — For any particular command, the area extending forward from its rear boundary to the rear of the area assigned to the next lower level of command. This area is provided primarily for the performance of support functions. See also Army service area. (JP 3-10)

Here is combat area:

Quote

combat area — A restricted area (air, land, or sea) that is established to prevent or minimize mutual interference between friendly forces engaged in combat operations. See also combat zone.

Go figure.

According to E.O. 13239, Dec. 12, 2001, which as far as I know is still in effect, all of Afghanistan and the airspace above it is officially a combat zone. On the other hand, as far as I can tell, Niger, where four members of the U.S. Special Forces were recently killed in an ambush, is not.

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14 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

The bright boys and girls in Silicon Valley who don't want to work for DOD feel that way because they don't want to work in what they think would be a nimrod military bureaucracy. They don't want to work with people they think will be bozos. They don't want to have to submit reams of paper when they want to try something and then have to wait weeks or months for a decision. They don't want their work hung up by absurd procedures and government shutdowns. They don't want to be told, over and over, what they can't do

At last we agree.

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In regards to meals in the field for military persons, it depends on how they are fed.  If they are fed by MREs, there is no need for plates or plasticware.  If it is by T-Rations, those are prepared in kitchen trucks and yes... the military provides paper plates and plasticware to use the consumption of the meal.  I don't think that this decision will change that one bit. 

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