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Marine Corps Recruit Base Gets Reinvention Attention

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

BETHESDA, Md., April 25, 1997 – Deborah Ruiz looked uneasy as she recently presented Vice President Al Gore a pair unusual government reinvention displays -- a multicolored ticket book and a used pair of camouflaged trousers.

Yet the two items Ruiz presented represent nearly $2 million in annual savings for the Marine Corps' San Diego Recruit Depot -- savings she calls common-sense approaches to running business at the depot.

Ruiz, who handles quality management concerns at the California depot, was the first of five federal workers who briefed Gore on their efforts to rewrite government rules and guidelines and save taxpayer money. She was here attending the second annual Reinvention Revolution Conference at the National Institutes of Health's Natcher Center.

One Ruiz subject was the depot's recruit direct deposit initiative, established in October 1995 to eliminate the paper scrip system used by recruits to pay for basic services. Since going to this system, Ruiz said the Marine Corps depot is saving nearly $1.7 million a year.

Under the old system, recruits would receive a portion of their pay in booklets of multicolored scrip. Each page -- or "chit" -- ranged from five cents to $20.

However, Ruiz said the script program created enormous administrative problems. She said besides the wear-and-tear associated with handling scrip, Marine Corps drill instructors were also becoming their recruits' financial managers. "These [chits] had to be inventoried six times by six different people," said Ruiz. "This was followed by endless report after report after report ..."

The recruit deposit program eliminates scrip. Instead of handling torn and faded tickets, each recruit now receives a debit card tied into the base's financial network. Recruits sign allotments sending their paychecks to the network, then use the debit card to pay for haircuts, donations, base exchange purchases and other uniform items.

In explaining the camouflaged pants, Ruiz told Gore nearly 20,000 Marine recruits report to San Diego -- some drastically overweight. The Marines issue three initial sets of uniforms -- uniforms returned to the base when recruits lose weight. Marine Corps regulations dictate recruits receive three new sets of uniforms in exchange for the used clothing.

The old uniforms -- some never worn, go to a half-price store. However, Ruiz said, they seldom sell. "The market for this size uniform is very, very small because most Marines are in very good shape." After 180 days, those nearly new uniforms transfer to the depot's Defense Re-utilization Marketing Office -- a supply warehouse -- where the uniforms were eventually thrown away.

Phillip Archuleta, a worker at the San Diego warehouse handled the uniforms and saw this as a waste of government money. He approached Ruiz and suggested that those slightly used uniforms be washed and reissued to new recruits and continue the process until those uniforms become unserviceable.

Ruiz said they were able to change some rules and the Marine Corps adopted Archuleta's suggestion -- at a savings of $200,000 a year.

Gore said Archuleta's suggestion shows that all federal workers -- no matter the pay grade -- can come up with good ideas. "By encouraging people ... in the federal government to come forward with the good ideas that they have, based on their own feeling of outrage at some really dumb procedure, you get much better ideas than you'll get from any other place," said Gore.

Ruiz briefed both subjects before other government reinvention conferences, but was surprised she got the call to travel to the national conference. She did not know she was briefing Gore until a week before the conference, but said the experience was exciting.

She also said the work does not stop for the five-member staff who aggressively tackle the depot's quality management concerns. "We've been a lab since January 1996," said Ruiz. "We got started just by beating the pavement and learning that we can do some great things, just by trying to make the right connections."

Other completed projects include extending drill instructor tours from two to three years as a way of improving training continuity. Ruiz's office also obtained funding to improve barracks furniture for those in troop billets and bachelor enlisted quarters. She cites an outdoor coffee and food cart program for Marines restricted from entering dining facilities in PT outfits -- a program she says is very successful.

Ruiz said it's hard to count projects that save money for the depot -- admitting that saving money is not the immediate goal. "When you improve the process and tackle the issues, you usually end up saving dollars as well," she said."

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