“Passenger travel is critical to our readiness and our ability to accomplish the mission. GovTravels is an example of how government and industry come together to build relationships, exchange ideas, educate, [and] collaborate on solutions to support and enable the people who serve in defense of our Nation,” said NDTA-DTMO GovTravels keynote speaker Mr. Thomas A. Constable, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. He also acknowledged the sheer complexity required to manage passenger travel, as well as the vast volume of data it involves.

The Office of Manpower and Readiness falls under the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (P&R), which serves as the principal staff assistant and advisor to the Secretary of Defense for force readiness, force management, health affairs, National Guard and Reserve component affairs, education and training, and military-civilian personnel requirements and management.

He explained that personnel and readiness are paired under one secretariat, as it is hard to discuss one without the other. “Our people are our readiness,” said Constable, a sentiment he thought the GovTravels audience would understand well.

“The P&R mission is simple: We ensure a strong, adaptable, and ready force, supported through exceptional policy, programs, and services. This means effective travel policy, programs, and services are an integral part, said Constable. “Our vision is a diverse, resilient, and ready DOD community. We cannot realize that vision without our industry partners, and we must continue to build on our relationships.”

In his roles in the P&R organization, Constable gained a unique view of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on personnel and readiness in a post-COVID environment. One of the first conversations that he recalled having at the start of the pandemic was a discussion on whether or not to curtail training. While there was concern about the young men and women being trained, consideration also had to be given to the travel and personal networks that would help get them to that training. While Constable knew training could not stop, how to accomplish the training needed to be reconsidered.

While people have returned to work since that time, the world has changed irreversibly. “I can tell you that the COVID-19 Pandemic undoubtedly changed how we view readiness and conduct our business operations. While our mission largely remains the same, we now have more options for how to accomplish it that may not have been fully realized [or] realized as quickly until the pandemic,” said Constable.

Some of these options include transitioning a portion of the workforce to a telework posture, adopting existing and developing new technologies to meet the requirements of a remote workforce, and finding other ways to accomplish the mission while limiting the need for face-to-face interactions.

“The pandemic taught us many things, but none more than the art of being flexible when it comes to taking care of our workforce. We needed to figure out how to move forward in an ever-changing environment—to accomplish our mission while taking care of our people,” said Constable.

Even as vaccines became available and the world slowly reopened, flexibility was required to deal with new challenges such as inflation, supply chain issues and shortages, and staffing challenges. He recognized like P&R, industry is continuing to recover and faces its own challenges.

“We know that you are facing your own challenges. We’re here today to clearly reinforce the importance of our continued strategic relationship. We hope that we can continue to constructively work together to find solutions,” said Constable.

DOD travel continues to trend upward. Though in 2022 DOD travel volume remained approximately 20% less than pre-pandemic levels, the total travel spend sits at around $8.5 billion.

As a result of the pandemic, traveler concerns have shifted. DOD has responded with an increased focus on Duty of Care initiatives, promoting the health, well-being, and safety of the force and their families.

To that end, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced an initiative called “Taking Care of Our Service Members and Families.” With this initiative, DOD recognized the service and sacrifice of US military members and their families, and dedicated resources, policies, services, and programs to support them. The Secretary approved actions in four areas: First, securing affordable basic needs. Second, making moves easier. Third, further strengthening support to DOD families. And, fourth, expanding opportunities for spouse employment.

“The pandemic caused DOD to pivot on many fronts,” said Constable. “We’ve learned that when pressed, we can respond in a very agile way to [a] rapidly changing environment. This is something we’ve always demonstrated on the battlefield, and we’re now far nimbler from a broader personnel and readiness organizational perspective.

“We’ve learned to adapt to rapid change in the workplace, to do so efficiently while maintaining our focus on our collective mission. Finally, I’ll say, please never forget that the force that you support—that you are a part of—remains the strongest, best equipped fighting force in the history of this planet.”

By Sharon Lo Managing Editor, Defense Transportation Journal and The Source

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