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Last year, Fort Meade was forced to tighten its belt to deal with a $7 million budget shortfall. In this column, Col. John Ives discussed the measures he was taking to meet the situation. These included a hiring freeze, a reduction of maintenance service and dramatically curtailed travel and non-essential training. We made it through last year hoping that Fiscal Year 2006 would be different. It has been, but not in a positive way.

This year, the Department of Defense did not get congressional appropriations until late February and our funding letter telling us what we were going to receive to spend for the rest of the year did not arrive until late March. When we got our portion of the Defense Budget, the news was bad. We were more than $12 million short in our operating funds for the remainder of the fiscal year against what we had stated as our requirement. By initiating a hiring freeze, canceling summer swim lessons, eliminating field trips at summer camp, limiting maintenance work orders to emergency and health and safety-related jobs and by reducing the scope of various contracts, we have found $3.4 million in savings. While the payroll is already secure through September, we are still $9 million short from what we need to operate through the end of the year. I believe ultimately that Army will provide funding to pay the bills for essentials such as utilities and basic installation services; in the meantime, however, we will not have the capability to fix all the things we would like to fix or provide the full range of services that we would like to provide.

It is incumbent on us all to be good stewards of the resources given us - and we'll try to stretch those resources as far as we can. It is my goal to continue to deliver services effectively with the courtesy and professionalism that the members of our community expect and deserve. I want to know when we fall short. There are certainly steps we can take in our processes to improve our delivery of services and we will continue to institute changes to save our customers time and trouble. I will not allow a simple "we don't have the money to do that" to be an excuse to justify lack of responsive service. That being said, there will be fiscal limits to what we can do. The budget leaves no flexibility for non-essential services and repairs. Remember, each of us is both a customer of the installation and one of its members. We all must be part of the solution.

To get through these tough times - and I don't expect FY 07 to be better - we will increasingly rely on our partnerships, on and off the installation, to find new and innovative ways to get things done. For example, to support our Fort Meade Swim Team, Picerne has agreed to host two outdoor swim meets this season at the Meuse Forest swimming pool. If they had not stepped up, our team would have been forced to withdraw from its league.

The role of volunteers on the installation is already critical to maintaining a high quality of life for our residents. The Chapels wouldn't work without them; our sports leagues wouldn't be possible without the scores of coaches, referees, umpires and other volunteers; our boy and girl scout programs would not serve the children of our community; the Enlisted Spouses' Club and Officers' Wives' Club wouldn't be providing resources to support critical service projects and scholarships for our young people and our retirees wouldn't be continuing to pass on the lessons and wisdom of the past to sustain us in the present and future. We are indeed blessed daily by the often unsung work of the volunteers who sustain and support our community. We can't thank them enough. Have you stopped and thanked someone lately for what they are doing with their free time that makes your life better or easier?

Finally, this situation will require patience. With a hiring freeze, someone may be doing two or three jobs at once, the work orders will queue up more than they should and those things that we all see that would make the installation neater may take longer than we would like. I am confident that despite the challenges that we face, our service to our customers will continue to be excellent (and heading toward world class).

Thanks for your support, partnership and willingness to volunteer to make this installation the place you want to live, work, and play. Ultimately, it's not about the money, it's about the environment we all create together that makes a place special. We are truly blessed at Fort Meade with all the attributes of location and people to create a wonderful community. There are fiscal realities with which to contend, but they pale in the face of our dedication to get the job done and deliver the support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coastguardsmen, civilians and family members deserve.

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