Sequestration forces SMART thinking at AFGSC

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Story by Airman 1st Class Joseph Raatz, Air Force Global Strike Command Public Affairs

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE — Sir Winston Churchill is credited with saying “Gentlemen, we have run out of money; now we have to think.”

Here at Air Force Global Strike Command, in an era of ever-increasing budget cuts, SMART thinking is all the rage. The Structured Multi-Attribute Rating Technique, or SMART tool, was developed by AFGSC in response to the limitations on availability of funding due to the Budget Control Act, commonly referred to as sequestration.

In a world of shrinking budgets and diminishing resources, this decision support tool is extremely valuable because it allows for a quantitative, objective evaluation of a potential course of action, said Lt. Col. Seung Paik, chief of budget operations for AFGSC.

The SMART tool uses an algorithm, a mathematical formula, to rate and rank courses of action based on various decision factors. Each course of action is given an objective score according to how it stacked up against those decision factors, which gives commanders a way to prioritize decisions.

“The real value of SMART is that it allows us to objectively make decisions based on numbers,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Mayo, SMART program developer. “It gives us the ability to trace a decision back and quantify it. Commanders can now see exactly why we should fund this project instead of that one.”

When preparing to use the SMART tool, the user must first define a set of decision factors. For example, if the user was deciding which car to buy, some decision factors might include fuel economy, safety rating and color.

These decision factors are then ranked and weighted by level of importance. In this case, the most important factor may be safety, which the user thinks is 25 percent more important than fuel economy, which in turn is 40 percent more important than color.

Each course of action, or vehicle in this case, is then assigned a standardized score in each of the decision categories. For instance on a scale of zero to five with five being the best, vehicle “A” may receive a five in the color category, a three in the fuel economy category and a four in the safety category. Vehicle “B” may receive a three in color, five in fuel economy and four in safety.

When the numbers are run through the SMART tool, these two vehicles will be weighed and measured according to the algorithm, and vehicle “B” may emerge victorious. When asked to justify why vehicle “B” was purchased rather than vehicle “A”, the user can refer to the hard data rendered by the SMART tool and explain exactly how the decision was reached.

When a limited budget is involved however, further steps can be taken using the SMART tool.

“That’s when we bring in the cost,” Paik said. “We call it the ‘best bang for your buck’ technique. It could very well be that the number one choice that SMART makes is incredibly expensive; it may be so expensive that we don’t even have that amount of money.”

But maybe the number three choice scored almost as high as number one, and is much more affordable.

So now what can go to the command leadership is not only a prioritized list based on the scores from the decision factors but also a different prioritized list based on the biggest bang for your buck, Paik said.

“It’s a new way of putting a number on a decision that you wouldn’t usually put a number on,” Mayo said. “It puts the puzzle pieces together based on your budget.”

The SMART tool is currently being used by all AFGSC directorates for their FY13 end of year assessment and requirements, and has even been used to assess the Anti-Terrorism Executive Budget.

“We adapted the tool and helped them get the most value out of their programs,” Mayo said.

The SMART tool took nearly a year to develop into its current state and will soon undergo a performance evaluation before being considered for release outside AFGSC.

“We’re going to go through a lessons learned period,” Paik said. “Depending on the feedback we get from the field and feedback we get from directors and leaders here, we may want to publicize the program to the Air Force at large.”

In times such as these, when budgets are short and cuts are an imminent threat, Mayo feels a tool like SMART may prove invaluable to the Air Force.

“SMART lets us make decisions more objectively in times of financial constraints,” Mayo said. “It allows us to ask ‘what can my last dollar do for me?'”