Washington needs to know the value of maintenance professionals

June 21, 2007
Government officials need to know our profession’s value, our contributions to the economy, what will enable and empower us and the obstacles to providing optimal productivity levels.

I was invited to attend a Facilities Forum sponsored by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) and the Federal Facilities Council held in Washington, D.C. Many people who read the invitation letter thought it was something right out of my column.

Finally, others are waking up to the realities of the Maintenance Crisis and wanted to talk about it on Capitol Hill. Despite numerous other commitments, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity. I’ve been to D.C. many times, but this was different. I was on a mission to learn more about our nation’s facilities challenges.

I arrived early and checked into my hotel. After a six-hour drive, I wanted to try out the hotel steam room. However, it was out of order. Instead of being upset, as the Maintenance Evangelist, I received it as a welcome to Washington.

I learned many lessons on this trip, such as the absence of outrage requires the absence of reality or the presence of minimal expectations. It’s amazing how fast things are changing for the better and the worse in D.C., all funded, of course, by our forefathers’, ours’ and our kids’ tax dollars and government bonds.

The most important lesson learned was: If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu. We all need to get to know our government leaders. More importantly, they need to know us. They need to know our profession’s value, our contributions to the economy, what will enable and empower us and the obstacles to providing optimal productivity levels.

They need to know that deferred maintenance isn’t preferred maintenance. They need to know and to do something about the pending retirements of our skilled workers.

We need to invite more government leaders to our maintenance and engineering conferences, not so much for their mouths but for their ears. The more sensitive they are to our needs, the more likely we’ll get results. They also need to know that we’re watching them.

When I shared my business card title, Maintenance Evangelist, with attendees, many thought that I was a union lobbyist. I said that I don’t back bad unions. Nor do I support bad management practices. However, American Airlines has recently proven that by partnering with labor, they can generate more business and comply with safety standards. Also, many companies with good management practices perform well without unions. As long as excellence is the result, that is my concern, union or not.

This response caused a stir. They said they had never met a maintenance evangelist. My answer was, “I wish that we didn’t need maintenance evangelists.”

I also learned that the new energy bill reportedly is simply going to require every government-owned facility to cut energy costs by 30%. On the surface, that sounds terrific. However, it doesn’t fund any new energy-savings initiatives or consider that many innovative facilities directors have been implementing cost-saving measures for years as well as striving to reduce energy use.

My next mission is to get an inside view of the White House and inform our top leaders that our pipes are rusting, our workforce is aging, our kids aren’t interested in helping and the technology requires a much higher level of talent than in the past. With reportedly more than 40% of nuclear power plant workers approaching retirement and 17 new nuclear power plants scheduled for construction, we need more than unfunded mandates to fix these problems.

While driving home past the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) headquarters, I saw the bomb blast barricade of six-foot-thick walls of concrete protecting a building. A Google search when I got home revealed that monstrosity cost more than $138 million including $19 million in cost overruns, and the director had his suite fixed up with more than $350,000 in amenities.

I’ve been invited back to D.C., and  later this month I’ll meet with the president of the National Association of Manufacturing, former Michigan Governor John Engler, in Greensboro, N.C. Thanks to all who cheered me on and those who offered their perspectives on this critical situation that’s more than a productivity issue. It’s a national security issue.

Contact Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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