Army's Fort Benning wins top honor

ksaldarini@govexec.com

It's time once again to clear some room in the trophy case at the Army Infantry School and Center at Fort Benning, Ga. The warfighting school recently won the Georgia Oglethorpe Award for performance excellence.

Fort Benning has become accustomed to such bragging rights. The fort won the 1997 President's Award for Quality and has won the Army Chief of Staff Award for Installation Excellence for six consecutive years since 1993.

The fort's latest accolade, the Oglethorpe Award, is based on the criteria used for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which was created by Congress in 1987 to recognize U.S. companies with successful quality management systems.

Receiving the Oglethorpe award is "like earning a Ph.D," said Victoria Taylor, executive director of Georgia Oglethorpe Award Press Inc., the non-profit organization that administers the award.

Oglethorpe applicants compete against criteria, not each other, Taylor explained. Last year, none of the applicants met the criteria, so an award was not given. "It's a low-cost, high-value assessment" program, Taylor said. An independent 10-person team evaluated Fort Benning's application on 99 different criteria.

Fort Benning is the Army's infantry training facility, with more than 50,000 soldiers trained each year. Oglethorpe evaluators recognized several of the fort's management improvement programs, including a newly streamlined employee orientation program (EOP).

"The Army deploys so frequently that soldiers need to be oriented quickly," said Adjutant Gen. Jim Brinson, director of military personnel at Fort Benning. The fort's orientation program for soldiers has fifteen elements, including basic orientation, personal finance advice and a health risk program.

Orientation used to take five days, but in the early 1990's the EOP office began working on improving the system. The soldiers "told us they wanted [orientation] done faster, they wanted better customer service, and they didn't want to wait in lines," Brinson said.

A new computer system eliminated several manual forms and shortened waits by pre-processing information before scheduled appointments. The personnel office made common-sense improvements, too. A list of commonly asked questions is now distributed to soldiers so they can prepare answers before their scheduled appointments, thereby reducing waiting time.

The time it takes an employee to go through the orientation process has been reduced from 5 days to 2 days since inception of the program, while customer satisfaction levels have stayed above 90 percent.

Fort Benning was recognized for other management efficiencies, including:

  • Saving $65 million in developing the land warrior combat system, an integrated fighting system that provides soldiers with portable computer, voice, radio and video camera systems.
  • Exceeding the Army standard for morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) net income by almost twice the 7 percent standard. The MWR program is the fort's recreation operation, which oversees the operation of a bowling alley, child care centers, a golf course and an overnight camping facility.
  • Strengthening community involvement through a civilian and military council that meets monthly with the local Chamber of Commerce to discuss community needs and problems.

    Fort Benning will be recognized at the Georgia Oglethorpe annual conference and award banquet March 18-19 in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Send an e-mail message to nmgoap@mindspring.com for more information.

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