DHA sets sights on big savings with joint-first strategy

Wednesday - 4/23/2014, 12:00pm EDT

Listen to the full Agency of the Month radio show.

Download

By Lauren Larson
Federal News Radio

The Defense Health Agency is predicting savings of more than $2.4 billion in the next five years by reducing duplication between the services through consolidation and common business practices.

"One of the mantras that we talk about is "joint first," and there's a lot of folks out there now, through 13 years of working side-by-side in a combat environment ... they're used to working with our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine colleagues as the norm. Now, how do you bring that back to garrison, as we say, in a similar joint environment," Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb, director of DHA, told Federal News Radio's Agency of the Month radio show.

Courtesy of DHA

To protect the Military Health System from the potential erosion of the benefit in a challenging fiscal environment, Robb called DHA a "solution set." He said it must prioritize where the next dollar is being spent. According to Robb, that can't happen if the services are operating in silos. There must be open communication and collaboration.

The formation of the DHA and implementation of its initial 10 shared services is anchored in the 'joint first' principle.

"You've got a generation coming up that I think is embracing 'joint first' and then you've got a series of leaders who recognize that we have been successful and we're more successful when we work together," said Robb. "What has been challenging is we have three services — Army, Navy and Air Force — we chose those 10 services because there was duplication, there was parallel effort."

The Medical Education & Training Campus, formed through BRAC, in San Antonio, Texas, began consolidating basic enlisted training years ago. Now it's looking to expand that success. Robb said it has begun training junior enlisted medical technicians jointly and, because each service "brought their best game," they are seeing a better product. After the initial joint training, the med techs receive service-specific training as needed. For example, aviation medicine for the Air Force or deep sea dive medicine for the Navy.

Another benefit that people might not think about is common documentation of training or the way people are certified, Robb said. It makes sense, he said, to streamline this as the services work alongside each other more and more in joint medical facilities. The joint enlisted schools are just the beginning as they look to expand that training model.

"What's been clear to our leadership is that it makes sense for us to have a common sight picture, a common operating platform, a common set of protocols, a common set of business processes, so you've got it coming from above with the leaders recognizing that, and you see it coming from below in a group of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who have been out there working side-by-side in a deployed and combat environment," said Robb. "Bringing that energy together, through this vehicle called the Defense Health Agency, to create a capability to support the Military Health System unlike we've seen anytime in our history."

As a combat support agency, the DHA enables the services and their respective surgeons general to provide medically-ready forces and ready-medical forces to their service chiefs and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the combatant commanders. With that combat support designation comes the accountability of a report card every two years.

Welcoming that accountability, Robb said they are "constantly in a full radar sweep" looking for additional opportunities for adding shared services or business processes for engineering that support the mission.

"We're actually pretty excited about where we are today," Robb said. "It is absolutely amazing the energy, both at the worker level and at the leadership level, as we move forward with the Defense Health Agency."