Gov Careers

By Phil Piemonte

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Those in the trenches say: Cut from the top


Amid lawmakers’ call to downsize the federal workforce, many commenters to this blog regularly call for chopping from the top. And they are not the only ones.

With Defense Department budget cuts in the news, a columnist for the Washington Post this week noted that many old-time observers of DOD think the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff might be ripe for downsizing, given their burgeoning growth over the years.

Of particular note: The growth over the decades in the numbers of undersecretaries, deputy undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries at OSD, as well as within the service branches themselves. The column details a number of examples.

In fact, DOD does seem overloaded at the top, given the sheer number of these folks. Too many chiefs, it would seem.

Their titles, of course, by design all confer the cachet of “secretary” on the holders.

In that regard, OSD is a bit like the public relations world, where the top honchos are supported by hierarchies of people who all have important-sounding positions.

For example, tracing down the food chain at a typical PR firm, one encounters executive vice presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents, senior account executives, account executives and assistant account executives—dozens of “chiefs” supported by one receptionist, a tech guy and maybe one or two secretaries—I mean, administrative assistants.

But you get the picture: Everyone wants to have a C-suite title, and it costs nothing to give it to them. The pay is the same. But in the end, a title doesn’t offer much of a clue to what someone actually does.

I’ve worked at PR outfits that specialized in public affairs, and held the titles of group director, managing director and vice president. But in any other business, I simply would have been called a writer.

The point is that even with title inflation, people can be performing real jobs and taking care of key functions.

As for the Pentagon, maybe the top ranks really are overgrown. DOD ain’t the PR industry: Even the officials at the lower levels of the secretary’s executive hierarchy are pretty big fish. So maybe the department is in fact top-heavy.

Most federal workers would agree that—given the current fiscal constraints that are affecting the federal workforce as a whole—the top ranks should not be exempt from cuts.

At the same time, before going after the ranks of top officials—at Defense or anywhere else—it probably would not be a bad idea to look past the inflated titles to see what people really do.

Rank-and-filers would expect the same for themselves.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Mar 09, 2012 at 12:13 PM


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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 6, 2012

I work at an agency where every decision involves several GS13s, several GS14s and a GS15, down to the level of deciding what color background should be used on an internal website. And they think this is "work".

Thu, Mar 29, 2012 Michael Stokes DoD USACE

I currently work for a small lake that has in 2011 created a Deputy GS-12 and Park Ranger GS-9. In 2012 they restructured and filled 2 vacant GS-9 positions and upgraded them to GS-11 management and one GS-7 upgraded to a GS-9 lead. I am disgusted with the system. No limits. The not so funny thing is that most government employees will complain about the expansion until it comes the time it will benefit them. They then fall in line.

Tue, Mar 27, 2012 Fed Girl

I agree with Concerned Fed Worker & Taxpayer. If the bread earner loses his job and has bad investments, the family loses. No one gives me any $ when I am overdrawn in my checkbook. Let this be a lesson the next time huge companies need a bailout. Give it to the people! Get rid of the people in managerial positions because they make more than 6 people combined. If we keep losing the "worker" bees who will hold up the rest of the country? I am close to retirement and frankly I am always worrying if I will have enough money to live on. Let Congress go back to the jobs they had BEFORE they were elected. I am so disgusted with the whole lot of them.

Mon, Mar 19, 2012

I work for a large state agency and we are the same way. Way to many chiefs. But they never get cut because they are the ones that are always making the decisions!

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 wake99

DoD is the most top heavy of all. How many bases/posts have been closed for the last 10 years?-hundreds; all those real work positions gone. Were any of the high grade positions that "so-called" supervised those base positions eliminated at HQ? No, in fact they just kept adding useless, know nothing, over-graded civilians and military to the top. Need an officer RIF and closure of many of the un-needed not useful HQ offices.

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