Defense personnel lines shift with IT

Technology is changing the face of the Defense Department, as the roles of service members have blurred between combat, combat support and administration.

DOD leadership for the past several years has grappled with the issue of getting uniformed personnel out of administrative jobs that can be performed by civilians. While the front-line troops can clearly be defined as combatants, it has become harder to tell which end is the head and which is the tail of the American fighting machine, said Dov Zakheim, chief financial officer for the Defense Department.

"The whole nature of tooth and tail is changing fundamentally," Zakheim said on Dec. 17. "If you have a military person operating an [unmanned aerial vehicle] that is operating in Iraq, and the [operator] is stateside — which we can do now — is that tooth or is it tail? I don't know any more."

Zakheim credited technological change and bandwidth expansion projects with allowing soldiers to fight a battle from thousands of miles away in comparable safety. But that also means that "the nature of the front office/back office has changed and the nature of rotations have changed," he said.

"Instead of having a military person come in and act in a clerical role in [the Defense Finance and Accounting Service], that military person could just as well be operating a UAV," he said.

The armed services have 1.3 million people in uniform, about 300,000 of whom are deployed overseas. A large portion of the remaining 1 million, however, are filling roles that civilian employees or contractors might handle better, retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, a member of the Defense Business Practice Implementation Board, said during a public board meeting July 30.

Zakheim said the department is looking into what jobs being performed by uniformed personnel can be outsourced or picked up by existing civilian employees.

"This is not a cost-free drill, by definition," Zakheim said. "If you're taking a military person out of, say, DFAS, you have two questions you can ask: Can a civilian already on the DFAS staff take over the work; or can several civilians cover the work that this one individual is doing?"

Zakheim said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified that he thinks DOD officials can convert about 10,000 military slots to an equivalent or lesser number of civilian posts.

Zakheim cautioned that he was not saying that 10,000 back office military employees will suddenly find rifles in their hands, but that putting uniformed people into the jobs that are inherently military will make DOD a more efficient organization.

David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said at the July Defense Business Practice Implementation Board meeting that having the flexibility to extract uniformed personnel from jobs in which they never should have been placed will be vital to continuing the department's transformation efforts.

DOD officials are seeking flexibility through the Defense Transformation for the 21st Century Act, parts of which were rolled into the recently signed Defense Authorization Act.

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