The Defense Department should cut its 800,000-strong civilian workforce as one of several steps to preserve military preparedness during a long-term budget crunch, 25 former government officials and other experts from across the political spectrum said in a letter Monday.
The number of DoD civilians grew 17 percent from 2001 to 2012, while the ranks of the active-duty military increased a little more than 3 percent, according to the letter. Although that workforce supports essential missions, the signers said, “its growth over the past decade has, by and large, been unchecked and unbalanced.”
While DoD leaders plan to furlough most of those employees for 11 days between next month and the end of September because of the sequester, DoD will still have more workers than it can afford “and quite possibly more than it needs” when the new fiscal year begins in October, according to the letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top members of the congressional armed services committees.
“It is past time for the Pentagon to rightsize this workforce and make permanent reductions in a thoughtful and targeted manner,” the letter said.
“The tradeoff point has now become acute,” said Gordon Adams, who oversaw national security issues at the Office of Management and Budget during much of the Clinton administration and is now at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank. Adams spoke at a forum in Washington marking the letter’s release.
In a Defense authorization bill approved in December, lawmakers ordered the Pentagon to cut about 36,000 civilian jobs over the next five years. The letter does not propose a number for additional reductions, but another signer, Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said in April that a reduction-in-force of some 100,000 positions is needed.
The call for civilian job cuts quickly came under fire from the American Federation of Government Employees, the union representing many DoD workers. In a news release, AFGE said the think tanks’ recommendations “fail to meet the laugh test” because they would generally leave the contractor workforce untouched.
The cost of service contracts doubled to at least $195 billion between 2000 and 2010, the union said, citing research by the Government Accountability Office. Military personnel and civilian employees “should serve as the core workforce, not the oxen to be gored,” AFGE President J. David Cox said in the release.
The letter’s other almost two-dozen signers include retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno of the Center for a New American Security; Dov Zakheim, who served as DoD comptroller in the George W. Bush administration and is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Lawrence Korb, a senior Defense official under President Reagan now at the liberal Center for American Progress; and Mackenzie Eaglen, a former congressional staffer who currently works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The letter also urges lawmakers and the Pentagon to reform military pay and benefits and embark on a new round of base realignments and closures.