Defense Management:

Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Force's Food Transformation Initiative

GAO-11-676: Published: Jul 26, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2011.

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To assess quality of life and identify areas for improvement, the Air Force conducts periodic surveys of its airmen. Recent surveys indicted that many of them were not satisfied with the quality, variety, and availability of food at Air Force bases. As a result, the Air Force implemented an initiative in 2010--the Food Transformation Initiative--to improve on-base food services. The Air Force piloted the initiative at six installations with a $10.3 million contract awarded in August 2010 and plans to eventually expand the initiative to other installations in the United States. The Senate and House Armed Services Committees directed GAO to undertake a comprehensive review of the initiative. GAO reviewed (1) the initiative's objectives and performance measures, (2) implementation progress, (3) the initiative's impact on food service workers at the pilot installations, and (4) alternative approaches the Air Force considered. GAO reviewed documentation on the initiative, interviewed Air Force and contractor officials, and visited four of the six pilot installations.

The Air Force established eight objectives for its Food Transformation Initiative, but it has not fully developed metrics or an evaluation plan for assessing the initiative's results. When GAO began its review, the Air Force had developed metrics for three of the eight objectives. The Air Force subsequently identified metrics for four additional objectives, but it did not have a robust evaluation plan, as called for by best practices derived from prior GAO work and various guidance documents, that describes how the initiative's results will be measured. Without well-defined metrics, contained in an evaluation plan that is clearly linked to its objectives, the Air Force is not in a position to adequately assess the results of the pilot and make informed decisions about the initiative's future. The Air Force has made some improvements to its food service operations as a result of the Food Transformation Initiative, but a key part of the initiative has been delayed, and it is too early to measure its results. The Air Force has obtained mostly positive feedback on the changes it has made, but the data collected to date are preliminary. In addition, the campus dining concept, which will allow airmen to use their meal cards to eat at on-base dining facilities other than the main dining facility, had not been implemented at the time of GAO's review. Therefore, this concept, a key part of the initiative, could not be assessed. Furthermore, initial data show that the Air Force may have underestimated some of the costs of the initiative, by overestimating the number of hours military personnel can provide the contractor for cooking and food preparation. The Food Transformation Initiative, as implemented so far, has had varying effects on food service workers. All military and civilian cooks at the main dining facilities have maintained their jobs, but some expressed concerns about increases in their job responsibilities. Most contract mess attendant employees have retained their jobs, but the total number of these employees has been reduced and some contract employees lost their jobs as a result of the initiative. Further, most civilian employees at nonappropriated fund food and beverage operations, such as clubs and snack bars, accepted jobs with the new contractor, but their job security remains uncertain as the contractor tries to make the facilities profitable and the remaining parts of the initiative are implemented. The Air Force included three options in its analysis of alternatives in selecting its method for improving its food services, but did not follow its own guidance for identifying and assessing alternatives that would meet the program's stated objectives. GAO found that two of the three alternatives were not viable options to be considered because they only met three of the program's eight objectives. In addition, the Air Force may be able to reduce its food service costs by reviewing and renegotiating its existing food service contracts at bases that are not part of the pilot program. GAO recommends that the Air Force take several actions to improve management of the Food Transformation Initiative, including developing an evaluation plan to assess the initiative's results before moving beyond the pilot. In commenting on a draft of this report, the Department of Defense concurred with all the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In GAO-11-676 (Defense Management: Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Force's Food Transformation Initiative) we found that the Air Force had made improvements to its food service as a result of its Food Transformation Initiative, but had overestimated cost savings as a result of the initiative because the Air Force had overestimated the number of hours that military personnel could provide the contractor for cooking and food preparation. We recommended that the Air Force Services Agency reevaluate the number of military personnel hours the Air Force can provide the contractor for food service, make adjustments where possible in projected labor hours, and take into account the increased labor costs in revising the cost savings estimates for the future. As a result of our recommendation, the Air Force worked with each base in the initial portfolio and their parent Major Command to revalidate all military manpower availability at the initial pilot bases and made adjustments in June 2011, when necessary to existing manpower estimates. In addition, the Air Force adjusted the formula used for determining manpower at future locations and provided this formula to the bidders on the next contract in June 2012. As a result of these actions implementing our recommendation, the Air Force has more accurate cost estimates as it moves forward in implementing the Food Transformation Initiative.

    Recommendation: Before implementing the Food Transformation Initiative at other Air Force installations, the Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Air Force Services Agency to reevaluate the number of military personnel hours the Air Force can provide the contractor for food service, make adjustments where possible in projected labor hours, and take into account the increased labor costs in revising the cost savings estimates for the future.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In GAO-11-676 (Defense Management: Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Force's Food Transformation Initiative) we found that the Air Force had made improvements to its food service as a result of its Food Transformation Initiative, but we could not assess a key part of the initiative, campus dining, because its implementation had been delayed. With campus dining, a meal card holder can use his or her meal card privileges at a location other than the main dining facility, such as the bowling alley or golf course. We recommended that the Air Force Services Agency evaluate the results of the implementation of the campus dining concept at the six pilot locations to determine if adjustments are needed before expanding the initiative to additional installations. In response to this recommendation in July 2011, the Air Force implemented a tracking system to monitor transactions at dining locations outside of the main dining facilities. This tracking system monitors by line item exactly what the customer eats when using his or her meal card, enabling the Air Force to catch mistakes or abuses in the system. The Air Force monitors the campus dining program daily. In implementing this tracking system, which is in line with the intent of our recommendation, the Air Force is able to monitor the campus dining program and make changes as necessary.

    Recommendation: Before implementing the Food Transformation Initiative at other Air Force installations, the Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Air Force Services Agency to evaluate the results of the implementation of the campus dining concept at the six pilot locations to determine if adjustments are needed before expanding the initiative to additional installations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In GAO-11-676 (Defense Management: Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Force's Food Transformation Initiative) we found that the Air Force had made improvements to its food service as a result of its Food Transformation Initiative, but needed to develop metrics to assess the results of this program and make informed decisions about the program's future. We recommended that the Secretary of the Air Force direct the Air Force Services Agency to develop an evaluation plan to assess the results of the Food Transformation Initiative. This evaluation plan should include well-defined, clear, and measurable metrics and time frames for collecting data. In response to this recommendation, in October 2011 the Air Force developed measurable metrics for seven out of eight original objectives. According to an Air Force official, the Air Force has decided to no longer use the eighth objective -- enhance sense of community -- as it could not define a measurable metric for this objective. The Air Force collects data on these metrics in two ways. First, the Air Force conducts a yearly customer satisfaction survey. Questions on this survey are specifically linked to the objectives and metrics for the program. The survey was most recently conducted in June 2012. Second, the Air Force collects financial information quarterly. In implementing our recommendation, the Air Force is able to measure progress in meeting objectives and use that information to inform decisions about the future of the initiative.

    Recommendation: Before implementing the Food Transformation Initiative at other Air Force installations, the Secretary of the Air Force should direct the Air Force Services Agency to develop an evaluation plan to accurately and reliably assess the results of the pilot phase of the Food Transformation Initiative. This evaluation plan should include, at a minimum, well-defined, clear, and measurable metrics to use in determining the results of the initiative and time frames for collecting data and reporting results.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In GAO-11-676 (Defense Management: Actions Needed to Improve Management of Air Force's Food Transformation Initiative), we reported that the Air Force has made some improvements to its food service operations as a result of the Food Transformation Initiative, but that the Air Force may be able to reduce its food service costs by reviewing and renegotiating its existing food service contracts at bases that are not part of the pilot program. Throughout our site visits, at which Air Force officials accompanied us, we discussed this potential for savings. As a result, the Air Force issued a memorandum to the Major Commands directing a review of existing food service contracts to determine if the contracts meet current mission needs. Further, we recommended that the Secretary of the Air Force monitor the actions taken by the Major Commands in response to this direction to review food service contracts, and take actions, as appropriate, to ensure that cost savings measures are implemented. In 2011, the Air Force told us that eight installations reviewed and renegotiated their food service contracts for a savings of $2.544 million per year. In 2012, all food service contracts were validated and five additional installations reduced costs for an additional savings of $2.285 million per year. According to an Air Force official, the savings for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 continue into fiscal year 2013. Therefore, the total savings for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 was $4.829 million. Converted into net present value, the total savings from the review of the food service contracts is $12,241,709.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Air Force should monitor the actions taken by the Air Force Major Commands in response to the recent direction to review food service contracts, and take actions, as appropriate, to ensure that cost savings measures are implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Air Force

 

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