JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – More than 60 Air Force installations are reaping savings and the benefits of improved air quality, thanks to the continued use of an online vehicle air emission inspection and compliance system that is estimated to be saving the Air Force over $11.8 million annually.
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center launched the Employee-vehicle Certification and Reporting System, or ECARS, in 2013, and has since rolled the software out to 62 installations.
“ECARS helps the Air Force comply with mandatory Clean Air Act requirements in areas that do not meet air quality standards for ozone and carbon monoxide,” said Frank Castaneda, AFCEC air quality subject matter expert and program lead for ECARS. “In these locations, federal facilities must provide proof that privately owned vehicles, operated by federal employees, comply with local inspection and maintenance requirements.”
ECARS tracks employee compliance with local requirements to ensure employees remain compliant, regardless of which state their vehicles are registered in.
Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, one of the last and largest installations to implement the program, has maintained a high compliance rate through ECARS.
“While a quantitative analysis of any air quality impact cannot be determined, our participation and embrace of this program speaks to the teamwork and willingness of the Scott AFB military and civilian community,” said Keith Brumley, physical scientist and ECARS lead at Scott. “The contractors responsible for managing the distribution and updating of those notified have done an outstanding job of continuing to update the process.”
Prior to ECARS, the Air Force relied on the vehicle decal program, where employees were required to provide proof of registration, insurance and an emissions test to obtain a decal. The decal program was discontinued after 9/11 in an effort to enhance security, leaving no standardized method to demonstrate compliance.
“We looked at various alternatives,” said Brent Allred, contractor and program lead for ECARS. “Options included re-instating in-person registration, having supervisors manually gather and store self-certification forms, relying on each installation to implement their own compliance method, or developing a standardized, Air Force-wide IT solution.”
After analyzing various options, Mark Correll, Air Force deputy civil engineer at the time, approved a self-certification module into the existing Air Program Information Management System, requiring a minimal initial investment and small increase to ongoing sustainment costs.
The ECARS self-certification process takes less than five minutes per employee, saving more than 200,000 man-hours per year when compared to the time previously required for in-person registration. It also provides instant access for gathering, tracking and analyzing data to help installations meet overarching compliance goals and improve and sustain air quality.
Employee rosters are maintained by Air Force Directory Services, and impacted employees receive automated email notifications when certification updates are required.
Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts, was one of the first installations to implement the program, and ECARS has helped simplify compliance tracking.
“Cape Cod Air Force Station is a small, geographically separated unit with only about 80 participants in the program,” said Stephen Mellin, support officer and ECARS lead at Cape Cod. “This allows me to reach out to our folks and make sure they are updating ECARS promptly. ECARS allows me to quickly check and see if I have anyone who is non-compliant.”
The program has had a few hurdles to overcome, including vehicle inspection stations refusing to test out-of-state vehicles. Installations have worked with local inspectors to help rectify these types of issues.
AFCEC completed a comprehensive evaluation of the compliance methodology in 2020. While the evaluation identified some opportunities for improvement, it also found that the self-certification process facilitated by ECARS continues to be effective in minimizing the cost of compliance and managing compliance risk.
“Innovative solutions like ECARS have far-reaching effects across the Air Force,” said Ben Kindt, chief of the AFCEC Environmental Quality Technical Support Branch. “The AFCEC air quality team has not only made great strides in protecting the environment, but has saved millions in dollars and man-hours for essential mission requirements.”