The bloodletting at the Department of Defense (DoD) is well underway. In order to meet the budget caps imposed by sequestration, the military is being required to accept not just painful but truly devastating manpower cuts. While the Army did increase its size as a consequence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from 490,000 to 570,000 it is now being asked to cut back to well below its starting point in 2001. The U.S. Army alone plans to cut its Active Component end-strength by at least 120,000 or 21 percent. The Army National Guard and Reserve are being asked to take cuts of 35,000 (10 percent) and 20,000 (12 percent) respectively. The Air Force already has taken 40,000 people (10 percent) out of its force structure and anticipates cutting 25,000 uniform personnel if sequestration remains in place. The Marine Corps will lose 8,000 from its Active Component. The Navy is not planning any further reductions, but that is because it has already cut some 60,000 uniform personnel (18 percent of its total) since 2003. Overall, the uniform military is being asked to absorb a 300,000 person reduction and still provide for this nation’s security.
Since 2001, the real growth in the size of the military was about 1 percent while the size of the civilian cohort in DoD grew by 8 percent to around 775,000 across all the services and defense agencies. Yes, it is true that the number of civilian contractors increased far more, from slightly over 100,000 to 240,000. However, that number largely reflected individuals providing direct support to deployed forces and has fallen precipitously as the U.S. military forces withdrew from Southwest Asia.
Confronted by a massive disconnect between the demand for military forces and available resources, the military has done its best to reduce personnel and eliminate force structure. The cuts being taken are real and painful. At this moment, the Army and Air Force are convening selective early retirement boards to force hundreds of officers and senior enlisted personnel, in many instances individuals with sterling records and a desire to continuing serving their nation, out of the military.
It only makes sense to cut the civilian workforce at the Pentagon at least as deeply as the uniform military is being cut. This is not a slight on their prior service or their continuing value to the nation’s security. But it is unjust and even unconscionable to send so many of our warriors packing and place the remainder under greater risk and not ask for proportionate sacrifice from DoD’s civilian workforce.
The proposal by Representative Ken Calvert to cut the civilian workforce of the Department of Defense by 15 percent or 115,000 is a good start. This would free up about $82 billion over five years to be used for critical investments in force readiness, modernization and recapitalization. Still, this would not equal the level of cuts being taken by the Army alone. 60,000 of Congressman Calvert’s target number simply represents a return to the pre-September 11 level of employment. A truly fair reduction would be on the order of 150,000 government civilians.
Critics of this proposal, not surprisingly most come from the public service unions, say that this would raise costs by requiring greater use of private contractors and even military personnel. But in truth the services have already pulled many uniform personnel out of positions that could be filled by civilians and no longer have the excess manpower to put into such billets. As I have written in earlier blogs, when the fully burdened rate for private contractors is compared to that of government civilians, the federal government achieves at worst an average 16 percent cost savings by replacing government civilians with private contractors on a one-for-one basis. The likely savings is more on order of 30-40 percent.
But there is no need to replace the 115,000 at all. Private companies including IBM, GE, GM and others faced with similar declines in revenues have shown that it is not only easy and right to cut the workforce, but that operations can be streamlined and made more efficient in the process. A 15 percent reduction in civilian personnel at the Pentagon just might make the place run better.
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