DOD leaders defend planned workforce cuts

Citing a need for 'full flexibility,' Hagel and Dempsey explain their plans to a House panel.

Chuck Hagel at budget hearing

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on the fiscal year 2014 defense budget request in Washington, D.C., April 11, 2013. (DOD photo)

The Defense Department's leaders defended plans to reduce the Defense Department's civilian workforce by 5 percent to 6 percent over the next five years in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee April 11.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered justifications to cut as many as 50,000 employees which echoed those made the day before at a Pentagon press briefing in which DOD leaders outlined the fiscal 2014 budget proposal.

"We need the full flexibility to keep the force in balance," Dempsey said in his April 11 testimony. "Budget reductions of this magnitude require more than just transfer authority and follow-on reprogramming authority. Everything must be on the table: military and civilian force reductions; basing and facilities; pay and compensation; and the mix among active, Reserve and National Guard units. The [fiscal] 2014 budget proposal helps us rebalance and strengthen readiness through hard choices."

Hagel noted during the hearing that much of the civilian reductions will come through restructuring military health facilities and underused infrastructure, and another round of Base Realignment and Closure activity. The latter, which was proposed in the new budget after failing to gain traction in previous requests to Congress, would begin in 2016.

"By the end of this year, we will have a plan in place that suggests how to reduce underutilization while still providing high-quality medical care," Hagel testified. "This restructuring, coupled with a BRAC round and other changes, would permit us to plan on a cut in our civilian workforce that will comply with congressional direction."

According to DOD Comptroller Robert Hale, the department will have roughly 777,000 civilian workers by the end of this fiscal year, and that number would be reduced to roughly 765,000 next year.

In addition to BRAC and the consolidation of military health care facilities, the workforce reductions would occur through the drawdown in Afghanistan and early retirement or other incentives the Pentagon might offer, Hale said at the April 10 press conference. Nevertheless, he acknowledged uncertainty in exactly how the cuts would be made.

"I would hope that given the time to prepare, we could do this through attrition," Hale said. "But we aren't far enough along to really know for sure as to how we'd do it."

Slashing the number of civilian employees is part of broader DOD plans to overhaul a military structure that has ballooned during the recent years at war, officials noted.

"The budget request supports a civilian workforce appropriately sized and shaped to reflect changes to the department's reduced force structure," DOD budget documents state. "This workforce recognizes evolving critical demands like cyber and guards against an erosion of organic skills and an overreliance on contracted services.... Changes reflect component-identified opportunities for reshaping their civilian workforces through realignments and workload reductions consistent with departmental strategies, and with due consideration of statutory total force management and workload sourcing mandates."

The announcement of workforce cuts in fiscal 2014 comes as Hagel and other officials are hashing out details of civilian furloughs due to current funding shortfalls. Hagel recently announced that the projected number of furlough days would be reduced from 22 to 14.

Even at the reduced rate, the furloughs are expected to further erode readiness and morale throughout DOD and are compounded by curtailed training opportunities, officials have said.

"Here again, sequestration is rearing its ugly head," Hale said at the press conference. "Our civilians, I think, are going to be devastated by sequestration if we end up going through with furloughs. And military training and military personnel are also affected. These men and women joined to train, and if we tell them they can't...it will adversely affect their morale as well."

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