WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 31, 2015) – Reducing civilian end strength so it is commensurate with the drawdown of Soldiers is something the Army has been focusing on, but it’s still a work in progress, noted Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh.
McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno testified March 26, at a House Appropriations Committee, Defense subcommittee hearing on Army posture.
“There’s lots of pressure on the services to reduce civilian end strength and we do believe the Fourth Estate — what we call the rest of the Department of Defense outside of the services — absolutely needs to be looked at in terms of growth,” Odierno told lawmakers.
DOD defines the Fourth Estate as defense agencies, field activities and some other entities not falling under one of the services or under a combatant command.
The remarks were in response to comments by a lawmaker that “the ratio of civilian employees to active-duty personnel is at historic levels,” meaning the number of civilians relative to uniformed personnel has gone up.
“Bringing that ratio down to the historic norm would save the Defense Department $82.5 billion over the next five years,” the congressman calculated. “All these savings could be reinvested to alleviate the impacts of [sequestration].”
The lawmaker then acknowledged that the Army did in fact shed 47,048 civilian employees recently.
REASONS FOR CIVILIAN GROWTH
Much of that civilian growth over the last decade was predicated on several things, McHugh said. “We were at war and … because of the demand in-theater.”
Many of the jobs taken on by Army civilians and contractors had been previously held by those in uniform, he noted.
Through “some actions by Congress, we’ve been required to do a number of things that substantially increased civilian numbers,” he said. “For example, there’s a provision in law that inherently military activities must be in-sourced and can’t be contracted out.”
For example, the Army had to downsize its procurement and contracting officers after the Government Accountability Office found that “we didn’t have enough civilian overseers and were relying too heavily on weapons contractors,” he said.
Those factors “explain the growth in large measure,” he said.
Since 2011, the Army civilian workforce has been drawn down some 14 percent, McHugh said, adding that “we’ve done some analysis [showing if or when] active end strength reaches 450,000, we’d have to continue to come down to about 239,000 civilians.
And, should sequestration occur, that will bring the needed drawdown of civilians to about 233,000, he said.
Summing up, McHugh said “we have a responsibility to balance our military reductions with our civilian reductions and we’re attempting to do that and over time I think we’ll get there. We can then hopefully reinvest those savings in military-based programs.”
Odierno said that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter “pledged to take a hard look” at drawing down the Fourth Estate.
When Carter was deputy defense secretary in 2013, he discussed the Fourth Estate at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
A DOD News release reported Carter’s remarks: “We are placing a great emphasis on reducing the cost of what we in the Pentagon call the ‘Fourth Estate,’ which … represents a fifth of the Department’s budget, and it merits at least as much scrutiny as the military services’ budgets. There are real savings to be realized here.”
Carter added that DOD must “drive down tail to strengthen tooth.”
MORE OPENINGS FOR WOMEN
Regarding the topic of female Soldiers, Odierno said,”We are modernizing the force and maximizing talent by opening more than 55,000 positions to women and are assessing the potential for opening as many as 166,000 additional positions across the force.”
The Army is still in the process of doing studies regarding opening up positions to women, he said. Those studies are focusing on physical standards and impacts of gender integration across training, recruiting and other areas.
The integration studies include looking at what it takes to integrate women into “some organizations and setting them up for success,” Odierno said, adding that he wants to ensure the process and requirements are fair for all Soldiers. “We don’t want to create more un-readiness” than there already is due to the budget constraints. “So it has to be managed properly.”
The Army is set to open up the engineer field to women “but has not yet made a determination on armor and infantry,” the chief said. “We’re still finishing up that assessment and expect it to be completed in the September time frame.”
McHugh added that the Army’s goal is to set all Soldiers up for success and place them where they’re best suited, male or female. “It’s our bedrock principle.”
While much of the focus has been on whether women can meet certain physical requirements in some military occupational specialties, McHugh offered that by some estimates, “about 10 percent of men currently in [certain] MOSs [or military occupational specialties] will probably have to think about being reclassified because they’re unlikely to meet those standards.”