Maintenance crisis lessons from Washington D.C.

June 20, 2007
Joel Leonard shares some of what he learned about the maintenance crisis while visiting Washington D.C.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been to D.C. numerous times before — once on a summer trip with my family when I was in fourth grade, and passing through on connecting flights or on trips to Baltimore to speak at NFMT. I have so many observations to share about my most recent trip that I am offering this extended version of my Crisis Corner column this month.

Upon arriving in our nation’s capital, my heart instinctively swelled with pride when I passed the Washington Monument and spotted more than 300 school kids carrying miniature American flags. Although I was filled with patriotism, I realized there are some additional things our government officials need to know.

The government may want to award more grants to developers of proactive maintenance technologies and offer incentives for companies to use them. Perhaps they even need to penalize companies that continue to implement reactive approaches to maintenance management and inadequately staff or train these critical functions.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t like government interference in business but so many company leaders worship short-term stock market performance levels and are more interested in reducing their personal golf scores than increasing maintenance performance.

Government also needs to know that unfunded mandates to cut energy costs may get positive headlines now, but may not generate long-term results and can potentially cost taxpayers even more. Since the mandates don’t recognize a baseline of efficiency, just cuts to budgets that may already have been reduced, they penalize efficient facilities. And I fear that some bad actors may consider inflating their baseline and working the new system by actually increasing consumption until the new measures go into effect to make it easier to tighten their belts later. So if you see government buildings with no cars parked outside and their lights on at night, or see everyone wearing sweaters in July, you will know why.

In the past several years, I have purposefully invited city council leaders, county commissioners, senators and state legislators to attend maintenance discussions. I encourage you to do the same to develop a rapport with them.

Want to get connected but aren’t sure how? If you distribute a departmental newsletter highlighting your goals, objectives and activities, send a copy to your government representatives and include a hand-written thank note for their support. Don’t be afraid of their title or to reach out to them. They’re just people like us and need to be informed of your challenges or they’ll never be able to help.

If you haven’t been to D.C. you may be as surprised as I was that several national unions have their headquarters a stone’s throw away from the Capitol. Ever wonder why so many government workers are unionized? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for or against unions, but using them as an example that we all need to get to the table to discuss our issues.

During the Facilities Forum on the Capital, facilities professionals expressed frustration about reaching out to the masses (I played the “Maintenance Crisis” ring-tones on my cell-phone to rave reviews). The chairwoman of IFMA and her leadership want to share our concerns with the members at future meetings and events and leverage my activities to higher levels.

Changes in attitudes are definitely needed. While in D.C., I saw so many plain-box buildings that looked very old and poorly maintained. To my shock, I discovered that most were less than 20 years old, and with all needed services either being deferred or subcontracted out to the lowest bid, they won’t last to their designed life span of 60-plus years.

I hope that many who read this column will take a trip and visit the capital themselves and perhaps get into the White House.

Contact Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at [email protected].

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