Anticipating a brutal outcome from the deliberations of the deficit super committee, the military is already planning for very deep reductions in force structure. Published reports suggest that the Army may give up 15 of its 45 Active Component brigades. The Army’s current end-strength is about 570,000 which includes a temporary 22,000 increase to support wartime rotation. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed an additional 27,000 person reduction, taking the Army down to 521,000. Cutting 15 brigades and their support units could take the Army down to as low as 480,000.
The Marine Corps is considering similarly difficult force structure reductions. The current plan is for a 15,000 person reduction from the current end-strength of 202,000 that would see the Corps lose three infantry and two artillery battalions. The outcome of the super committee’s deliberations could result in a doubling of planned personnel cuts.
It is impossible to imagine reductions in uniform personnel on the scale being suggested without appreciating that this will result in even larger cuts to the DoD civilian workforce which currently stands at over 700,000. The civilian workforce performs a wide range of functions from directing the operations of a worldwide military force from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to conducting intelligence activities in support of current operations in Afghanistan to repairing and resetting damaged equipment at the military service depots.
Just as the number of people in uniform grew in response to the demands associated with fighting two wars simultaneously, so too did the number of civilians in DoD. In fact, the size of the OSD bureaucracy was expanding even before September 1. Parts of the public defense industrial base went through a similar experience, hiring lots of new workers to meet the increased workload created by Iraq and Afghanistan. However, it should be noted that those installations with smart leadership anticipated the inevitable downturn in activity and funding to come and limited their hiring while meeting staffing requirements with temporary contract employees and through partnerships with private industry.
Now as the wars are winding down and deep budget cuts loom, the DoD civilian workforce must face the prospect of major reductions in personnel. The challenge will be particularly severe for those parts of the public defense industrial base that exceeded their long-term sustainable work levels during the good times. Overall, as the military downsizes and the nation struggles to create private sector jobs, it will be difficult, even impossible to justify retaining excess DoD civilian personnel.
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