Shape, don't slash, workforce

House report on Defense Authorization Bill

Any federal employee shudders at the mention of workforce reduction. It's not just the prospect of having to dust off a resume and find a new job. For feds who survived the 1990s — marked by round after round of early retirementsand reductions-in-force — the fear is being retained only to face unreasonable workloads.

Such is the case for the Defense Department's acquisition workforce, cut from nearly 450,000 people to about 135,000 during the past decade. The House Armed Services Committee recently proposed reducing the workforce by another 13,000 people next year. In an Aug. 1 report related to the fiscal 2002 Defense authorization bill, the committee wrote that the cuts were "necessary to reduce costly overhead and to free up resources for combat-mission areas."

Tight budgets make for tough decisions. Unfortunately, the committee's choice is ill-advised.

Less than a year ago, Jacques Gansler, then DOD undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, issued a memo stating that reducing the acquisition workforce was no longer a Defense goal. That memo came after the DOD assistant inspector general for auditing concluded that fewer workers in contract shops and not enough training contributed to the department's procurement problems, which include DOD paying too much for products and services, vague contracting requirements and late contracts delivery.

DOD has since instituted training programs to increase the expertiseo f acquisition workers. But, as the debacle over the abruptly cancelled $400 million Defense Research and Engineering Network contract shows, DOD would do well to spend more time retaining and training its contracting force.

Time is working against DOD, however, because about half the existing acquisition workers will retire in five years. That, combined with the nearly 10 percent cut proposed by the House Armed Services Committee, could devastate DOD's procurement staff at a time when the military should be capitalizing on innovative business practices such as outsourcing and share-in-savings contracts.

To protect fiscal resources, DOD should align its needs with a properly staffed acquisition workforce. And when Congress returns from its summer break, we hope lawmakers will give these workers the relief they need.

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