An efficient machine of innovation and service

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Luke Pinneo

Boston – As the incoming commander in chief continues this week to look for novel ways to cut government spending, including the recently created position of Chief Performance Officer, a small team of Boston-based Coast Guard performance analysts find themselves pre-aligned with the new administration’s goals.

They too are charged with keeping tabs on how government time and money is spent, specifically Coast Guard time and tax payers’ money – and moreover – how to find the most efficient ways to spend it.

The program is expected to be formalized early in 2009. It would offer incentives ranging from savings bonds to time off for members in the district who develop and share innovative and efficient ways to do Coast Guard business.

Kornreich’s office is a collection bucket for ideas from the field, and a conduit to decision makers. As members devise unique ways to solve problems, increase productivity and cut spending in the district, Kornreich presents them up the chain of command.

He said one example of innovation that has found its way into daily operations is a renewable energy project at the Coast Guard base in Southwest Harbor, Maine. Using a small wind turbine and solar panels, they keep back-up batteries charged for when, rather than if, they lose power.

“They lose power quite often up there,” he said, and when they do, the batteries give them an uninterrupted supply of power for important electronics.

Other ideas that are now used include government software bundles that allow units to exchange information in near-real time. Kornreich said the technology has been used throughout New England, from the air station in Cape Cod to security teams in Boston, to inspectors in Connecticut, and has cut costs.

Having the ability to share information and access secure databases cuts man-hours, he said.

“Let’s say a marine inspector gets on scene with a ferry,” he said. If the inspector doesn’t recognize a certain fitting on the ship, in the past they would have to drive back to the office, sometimes hours away, to determine whether or not it was approved. In such a case, the ferry, or another commercial vessel would be held at the dock. The use of the secure software and wireless cards allow them to resolve issues quickly.

“It helps to minimize waste,” he said.

It is efficiencies like these that Kornreich hopes to inspire and collect from the field and the concept of waste-cutting innovation, according to him, stretches across a broad spectrum.

“It doesn’t have to be a better piece of equipment or technology,” he said. “It could be how we do business or improving a process or us being able to give you info about how well you do something.”

As Kornriech said, the concept of innovation and change is hard to implement in an organization that has been successful because of its standardization. To change one unit, means the Coast Guard has to change every unit to maintain its vital uniformity.

Things in the service are – not always, but often – the way they are because they work for everyone, and don’t need to be fixed. When that philosophy permeates, individuals from the bottom up are reluctant to develop and voice new ideas.

The silver lining, Kornreich said, is finding and encouraging innovation in the grey areas.

“We don’t have to necessarily drill holes in the deck of a ship to try out a new piece of equipment. We could Velcro it down for a while to see how it works.”

Kornreich said he hopes the incentive program, once finalized, will get members in the district thinking along the lines of process improvement, and nudge them to bring new ideas forth.

“If it makes us better at what we do and helps us save money, we can work to make it a service-wide part of how we do business,” he said.

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