As a former 3-star vice admiral, Tim LaFleur managed an $8 billion budget and 100,000 sailors. He held a central role in a broad initiative to reassess the Navy’s readiness in the post-Cold War era.
Now retired, he’s applying those lessons as a defense consultant to help the military function more efficiently under huge budget constraints.
“When I grew up in the Navy, it was readiness at any cost. Today, it’s the right readiness at the right cost and at the right time,” said LaFleur, 62, now a principal consultant at the San Diego office of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. He retired as Naval Surface Forces commander in 2005.
Booz Allen is a private global strategy and technology consultant firm based in McLean, Va., with more than 19,000 employees and annual sales of $4.1 billion.
“We used to be very risk averse,” La & #173;Fleur said. “Our ships were manned in a Cold War mentality.”
Back then, there were two sailors for each post. Today, a fraction of them are needed as ships have become more automated.
“In the last five years, the Navy has taken about 50,000 people out of the Navy,” said LaFleur. “In that same period the cost of manpower has gone up. Pay raises and the rising cost of medical services and housing have driven manpower costs.”
About five years ago, facing maintenance backlogs for its aging fleet of ships and airplanes, the Navy was forced to do some soul searching. The resulting Fleet Readiness Enterprise initiative, which LaFleur helped manage, used commercial best practices to reform operations.
For instance, instead of storing millions of dollars of unused spare parts on each ship as it had been doing since World War II, the Navy moved them to a centralized location and reduced inventory by 66 percent.
“When he was the Surface Forces commander, he came up with some very innovative techniques,” said Booz Allen Hamilton Vice President Dave Karp, who hired LaFleur. “The Navy transformed itself , taking a progressive look at how to do business.”
LaFleur came up with some innovative approaches to determine which systems worked well and which didn’t, said Karp.
“He continues to advise in that,” he said.
Navy leadership is engaging in a 30-year goal of expanding its fleet from 280 to 313 ships, while decommissioning older ships. It’s also under tremendous budget constraints as the U.S. government pours billions of dollars into war-related expenses, extended tours for personnel and replaced battle-worn materials.
While Congress wrestles with its issues, the Navy is also bracing for a change in administration.
“Whoever wins the election will have a different approach to what we’re doing around the world,” LaFleur said. “There will be a lot of pressures on reducing budgets. We’re spending a lot of money in Iraq, a lot of the costs are basic costs that are really being picked up in supplemental (budgets). When the supplements go away, there will be big challenges. Ship maintenance and sub maintenance are being cut back. If we go too far, it will really impact our ability to meet our commitments worldwide.
“The No. 1 issue is the war,” LaFleur said. “Not just the war in Iraq, but the war we’re going to face when every soldier and individual is out of Iraq.”
The United States must fight to convince the world that it’s not acting exclusively on U.S. interests and is helping nations resolve their differences without violence, he said.
“Helping people understand that we Americans are not interested in fighting wars around the world even though sometimes that’s what the media portrays,” he added.
At Booz Allen, LaFleur supports the Navy on readiness and training, provides fleet operations support and personnel planning and leadership.
He’s helping the Navy consolidate its Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, or Spawar, program, which provides the Navy with communications technology and computer systems. He’s supporting the armed forces in combining its branches under a joint tactical radio system, or JTRS. And he’s recently been appointed by Booz Allen to lead a senior advisory group, which acts like a think tank for the military.
“If you need someone to do an economic business analysis, we have people that can come in and do that,” he said. “We won a significant contract to support fleet readiness.”
He recently paid a visit to General Dynamics Corp.’s Nassco shipyard, which builds the T-AKE ships for the Navy, to help identify efficiencies in the shipbuilding process.
“He’s done a few things for us and done a good job for us,” said Nassco President Frederick J. Harris. “He was looking at strategies of where we might go in the future.”
Still, LaFleur says he misses interaction with sailors seeing a 19-year-old kid who’s scared to death because he doesn’t know what he’s getting into.
“I liked pumping them up,” LaFleur said. “Here, a lot of our people are under 30 and I help them figure out a way to be successful. It still gives me a nice leadership feel.”