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AFMC executive director takes vast role in stride

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE -- The executive director for Air Force Materiel Command has a lot on her plate these days. Yet, through it all, she wears an infectious smile, exudes confidence and brims with optimism.
   As the senior civilian within AFMC, Barbara Westgate, a member of the Senior Executive Service, advises AFMC Commander Gen. Bruce Carlson on labor union relations and development of the civilian work force.
   She also advises the commander in managing all aspects of the command's mission of delivering war-winning capabilities, aircraft and weapon systems on time and on cost to America's warfighters.
   Last week, Mrs. Westgate and other labor and management officials from across the command assembled at Tinker to take part in AFMC Partnership Council meetings. The meetings, which took place Aug. 8-9, provide an opportunity for management and unions to work together as partners to resolve workplace issues for the betterment of AFMC.
   "We hadn't been to Tinker in a while, so this gave us an opportunity to see what issues are taking place here and put that into perspective," Mrs. Westgate said.
   One of the key items of discussion was Tinker's recent signing of a Voluntary Protection Program mentorship agreement for advancing worker safety and health on the job.
   "When you look at the commitment of labor and management regarding VPP, you quickly realize that labor runs the program," Mrs. Westgate said. "When you look at how dramatically they pay attention to the issues, you have to liken it to being a good Wingman."
   Mrs. Westgate said the goal of the partnership council in regard to VPP is to develop the most safe, efficient, productive work force an organization can employ.
   "When you reduce the amount of injuries you have, you're going to be more productive," she said. "Some of the research we've done indicates the best private sector VPP sites on average experience a 60 percent reduction in injuries and illnesses and a 20 percent reduction in worker's compensation costs.
   "In our case, developing our work force just increases our combat capability and makes us better stewards of taxpayer dollars."
   In a command of more than 79,000 employees, approximately 56,000 of whom are civilians, Mrs. Westgate said a number of challenges exist due to recent budget cuts and a reduction in manpower.
   To compensate for these shortfalls, she said the work force will need to continue looking at ways to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
   "The civilians in this command are the backbone of the organization," Mrs. Westgate said. "They are part of a labor force that keeps everything going.
   "Even though we are getting smaller in number, we are becoming a more efficient, focused and skilled work force because of programs like Lean and Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century. That goes for the entire AFMC work force, not just the civilians."
   She said if the command is going to continue to provide the same level of warfighter support it's provided the past 15 years, and even before that as the former Air Force Logistics Command and Systems Command, employees will need to work smarter, faster, better and cheaper.
   Given the limitations in manpower and resources the Air Force is facing, Mrs. Westgate said she still does not hesitate to recommend the Air Force as a career.
   "There's always going to be opportunities," she said. "We're a total force, a mixture of Guard, Reserve, active duty and civilians moving forward toward a common goal.
   "A career in government service is pretty exciting. It provides you opportunities you might not commonly experience in the mainstream work force from a force development perspective."
   On the downside, Mrs. Westgate said, there's a balancing act going on. But even as the budget is shrinking and the Air Force becomes a smaller, more efficient and agile force, there are always going to be opportunities for people seeking a career in government service, she said.
   "But with all those opportunities and responsibilities comes an obligation," Mrs. Westgate cautioned. "Everything will not be handed to you on a silver platter. The only person responsible for your career is you."
   As the command looks toward the future and meeting Air Force challenges, she said the work force needs to remember to focus on health, wellness, safety, professional development and continuous improvement.
   "While we're under budget stress and the operations tempo remains high, we need to look at ways to keep our older weapons systems capable and performing the mission as we try to recapitalize," Mrs. Westgate said. "At Tinker, AFMC and throughout the Air Force, one way of doing that is to lean out our processes and get rid of those things that don't add value.
   "When we look at ways to develop and sustain our warfighting systems, it reduces the burden that our warfighters and our taxpayers face. When you look at Tinker and the job you've done here with lean transformation, there's no better contributor."
   Still, Mrs. Westgate stressed, Tinker - and the rest of the command for that matter - can't rest on their laurels.
   "We have to continue to improve our processes to reduce those flow days," she said. "Tinker has got this down to a science and, when I think I've lost perspective of what transformation really means; I'll come here because you guys are definitely on the right track."