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New BRAC round needed for civilian workforce reductions, officials say

Feb. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
A new BRAC round is needed to help cut the Defense Department's civilian workforce, Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, seen here testifying at a recent Senate committee hearing, said Tuesday. (DoD photo)
A new BRAC round is needed to help cut the Defense Department's civilian workforce, Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, seen here testifying at a recent Senate committee hearing, said Tuesday. (DoD photo) (Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

The Defense Department’s ability to pare its civilian workforce hinges partly on getting the go-ahead to launch a new wave of base realignments and closures (BRAC), top officials said Tuesday.

While the size of that workforce will dip by several percentage points under the Pentagon’s fiscal 2015 budget request set for release next Tuesday, “it would come down somewhat more — another few percent at least — if we were able to get a BRAC round,” DoD Comptroller Robert Hale told defense industry executives and reporters at a conference organized by McAleese and Associates, a consulting firm based in northern Virginia, and Credit Suisse.

Christine Fox, acting deputy defense secretary, had made a similar point earlier in the conference. Already, major military headquarters organizations are cutting civilian employees and contractors to meet a 20 percent savings target intended to save $5 billion over five years. But most DoD civilians work at depots, shipyards, and other installations outside of the Pentagon, Fox said. Without another BRAC initiative, she said, “we will be constrained on how much more we can bring down our civilian workforce.”

As of September, DoD and the military services had about 732,300 civilian employees on their payrolls, or roughly one for every two active-duty service members, according to the most recent available Office of Personnel Management figures. That number, while down over the preceding year, remained about 11 percent above the 661,000 on board in September 2001.

As part of its budget request for next year, the Pentagon will seek a BRAC round in 2017, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Monday briefing. It would be the first since 2005; while Congress has stymied previous attempts by DoD to close and consolidate bases in recent years, “we cannot fully achieve our goals for overhead reductions without cutting unnecessary and costly infrastructure,” Hagel said.

While both Fox and Hale stressed the need to realign the number of civilian employees to tighter budgets and shrinking workloads, they also praised that workforce’s contributions. If any good came out of last year, Hale said in an allusion to sequester-related furloughs and the partial government shutdown, I think it convinced some of our managers just how important civilians were.”

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