DOD sees danger in cuts

A move by the House Armed Services Committee to slash the Defense Department acquisition workforce by another 13,000 jobs next year is being opposed by Pentagon officials as detrimental to DOD's long-term strategy.

The proposed fiscal 2002 workforce cuts are part of the committee's plan for eliminating waste and reforming DOD's organization and business practices. Reforms to DOD's acquisition infrastructure "continue to be necessary to reduce costly overhead and to free up resources for combat-mission areas," the committee stated in an Aug. 1 report related to the fiscal 2002 Defense authorization bill.

DOD has reduced its acquisition workforce by more than two-thirds during the past decade, and department officials maintain that they can't afford to lose more employees at this stage. "A reduction of this magnitude will increase the department's challenges as it faces a retirement brain drain compounded by junior and mid-career personnel gaps in the workforce," said Donna Richbourg, DOD director of acquisition initiatives, in a written response to questions.

What's more, Richbourg said, additional mandates for reduction would hurt DOD's strategic planning effort for human resources in identifying existing acquisition workers and determining "the right skills and right numbers of people that will be needed in the very near future to meet DOD's mission."

The DOD acquisition, technology and logistics workforce now stands at approximately 135,000, according to Richbourg. This includes people in program management, contracting, engineering, logistics, testing and other disciplines.

From fiscal 1990 to fiscal 2001, the department reduced its civilian acquisition workforce by more than 70 percent. The group that remains is older — with an average age of almost 47 — and almost half will retire by 2006. These factors all come together to put DOD in a position where any reduction, much less one of 13,000 people, would be "detrimental," Richbourg said.

Most DOD experts agree that there is no room for further cuts, said Steve Kelman, Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "The cuts we've had up to now have been just barely manageable" thanks in part to streamlined acquisition procedures such as credit cards and contracting vehicles — the General Services Administration schedule for one — that have allowed a "smaller workforce to do the same amount of work."

It's important to remember, Kelman said, that even though the workforce has been reduced, "the net amount of work that the workforce has to do in terms of the demand for acquisition services has not really gone down." It takes the same amount of manpower to procure 50 of one item as it does to procure 100 of that item, he added.

"I don't believe there's anyone who believes" that the acquisition workforce can be slashed further "without significant danger" of affecting the quality and process of the goods and services DOD buys, Kelman said.

Others agree. It's not even just "the sheer numbers" that are a concern, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. "The issue is the future of the human capital crisis that's involved. Every chart we see goes off the edge of the cliff because of the retirements that are expected." The cuts, he said, "appear to be counterintuitive."

Both the DOD inspector general and the assistant IG for auditing believe the drop in the acquisition workforce has had adverse effects on DOD because the workload had not been reduced proportionally.

Meanwhile, the committee recommendation flies in the face of a September 2000 memo signed by Jacques Gansler, then undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, which stated that within the department, there would no longer be a goal to reduce the acquisition workforce under the Government Performance and Results Act.

However, Kelman noted that previous congressional attempts to cut the DOD workforce have been opposed by the Senate. The Senate and House will debate the issue in conference.

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