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Facts, testimony bust IDEA myths

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- In less time than it takes to fill out a credit card application, Darlene Daspit-Pohl was on her way to earning $10,000, just for having an idea.

In June 2007, Ms. Daspit-Pohl, who works at Randolph AFB, used the Air Force IDEA Program to submit an idea that reduces how much the government spends for pilots' oxygen masks.

Three weeks later, her idea was approved and a cash award was headed her way.

The Air Force Innovative Development Through Employee Awareness Program routinely distributes recognition certificates and monetary awards for original ideas that benefit the Air Force. Depending on the validated first year savings and/or intangible benefits, the rewards can range from $200 to $10,000.

"Ideas don't have to be about technical orders or mechanical improvements or come from the flightline," said Nathaniel Zabel, chief of the Innovation Programs Branch at the Air Force Manpower Agency. "We want to see ideas from across the Air Force, from civilians, enlisted and officers, from every career field and every shop, from the cubicles to the cockpits."

From 2004 to 2008, almost 35,000 ideas were submitted for evaluation. Nearly 50 percent of those were accepted and received personal incentive awards. This fiscal year, close to $850,000 has already been awarded for innovative ideas.

"The IDEA Web site has made it extremely easy to submit an idea," said Master Sgt. Art Hoven, assigned to Offutt AFB, Neb. "(To speed up the entire process), your ... submissions should be as clear and concise as possible."

In an effort to debunk the myths surrounding the IDEA Program, both users and officials offer advice on how to make the program work for everyone.

Myth 1: I have no ideas worthy of a submission.

"Everyone has good ideas," said Sergeant Hoven. "The challenge is to find a way to sell them and work them into the master plan."

Sergeant Hoven's ideas - mostly technical order changes and aircraft modification ideas - have netted him several $200 awards.

"If you don't know where to start or if you're unsure if your idea meets the program's eligibility criteria, call your local IDEA office," said Air Force IDEA analyst Lori Sudol. "They will help you get going in the right direction. Starting in the right place helps ensure your idea will speed through the entire process."

Myth 2: The program is only for those on the flightline.

Steve James and Thomas Finely from Sheppard AFB shared a $10,000 award for their idea to standardize parking lot lights with light emitting diode, or LED, lights.

Maj. Carol Gordon from Luke AFB, Ariz., earned $10,000 for her idea to delay reissuing common access cards to junior enlisted Airmen until they become NCOs.

"If you have ever submitted an action line or talked with your fellow co-workers about what could legitimately be done to improve your productivity and your base, then you have valid ideas," Mr. Zabel said. "Save the Air Force real money and you could get real money in your pocket."

Myth 3: My idea doesn't save the Air Force money.

A proposal doesn't have to reflect an actual savings amount to be eligible for an award. Intangible ideas - such as identifying a dangerous intersection or installing proximity card readers - are frequently considered by the IDEA Program.

Staff Sgt. Edward Sells from Lackland AFB received $200 - the maximum award amount for an intangible idea - for his idea to have printable certificates available as proof that Airmen had taken the Physical Health Assessment Online Survey.

"While these ideas do not necessarily save the Air Force money up front, imagine what is being saved in manpower hours and frustration because of Sergeant Sells' submission," said Mr. Zabel.

Myth 4: Very few cash rewards are distributed.

"There's this misconception that the program only works in unique circumstances, and that these select instances are few and far between," said Staff Sgt. Erik Figi.

Sergeant Figi, assigned to the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angles Air Force Base, Calif., received $10,000 for his idea on historical film restoration.

Since 2004, close to $10 million has been awarded to Airmen for ideas that have saved the Air Force more than $537 million. In 2008 alone, the Air Force paid out $1.4 million in IDEA awards.

Myth 5: It takes too long for ideas to be evaluated.

One of the common culprits leading to an extended evaluation period is a lack of details required to implement the idea, according to Ms. Sudol.

"The clearer the information the submitter provides, the easier that submission is to evaluate," she said.

"Sometimes an idea just needs a simple re-write or some additional details to make it viable," said Karyne Berman, Air Force IDEA Program Data System program manager. "Contact your local IDEA Program office and we can help you polish up your submission."

Myth 6: No one really cares about my ideas.

Ideas from across the Total Force assist those in decision-making positions.

"Submitting your idea is a sure fire way to have your voice heard, and possibly have an impact Air Force wide," agreed Sergeant Hoven. "The Air Force can't fix something if they don't know it's broken."

As the current IDEA Program heads into its 13th year, AFMA plans to continue integration efforts through partnership with other improvement programs, such as Air Force Smart Operations, Best Practices and Lessons Learned to streamline process improvement from the lowest to the highest levels across the entire Air Force.

"The IDEA Program is a great resource for our Airmen, especially since most people want to improve their work areas and make their job better," Mr. Zabel said.

Let us hear your voice. To submit an idea, log on to the Air Force Portal and navigate to "Featured Links" on the home page. Expand "Transformation" then click on "IDEA-AF Suggestion Program." 

Once there, Airmen - active-duty, Reserve, Guard, civilian and retirees - can submit ideas, see what ideas have been submitted, provide feedback and see how much money your installation has received during the current fiscal year.

For more information on the IDEA Program, visit your base IDEA Program office or e-mail idea@randolph.af.mil.