DOD staffing: Cut fat, not meat

Tucked away in the 1998 Defense authorization bill passed by the House last week is a provision that calls for the elimination of 102 000 acquisition work-force positions over the next three years. Citing the 13th straight year of real decline in Defense spending and a 33 percent reduction in U.S. military forces over the last 10 years proponents of the language argue that a corresponding reduction is needed in DOD's support infrastructure which includes procurement personnel.

The 40 percent cut was proposed to "create a smaller smarter and streamlined bureaucracy" as called for in the National Performance Review. The word from the Hill was that DOD had been told to cut these positions but had not done so so Congress was doing it for the agency.

The issue does not seem to be "if" acquisition forces are cut but "when" and "by how much." There is some evidence of excess capacity in DOD agencies bidding for other agencies' work and offering to handle the buying for other agencies and organizations. And procurement processes have changed dramatically in the wake of the last two reform efforts. But the same bill that includes the proposal to drastically reduce DOD's acquisition work force also includes language that would increase funding for DOD IT projects by more than half a billion dollars. Not everything can be ordered electronically and charged to a credit card.

The Senate's version of the bill which last week passed the Senate Armed Services Committee called for a "rational" approach to acquisition work-force reductions. We agree. We believe a steady gradual approach works better than dramatic chopping even in a bureaucracy bred to resist change.

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