WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 21, 2014) – As the troop drawdown in Afghanistan continues, the demand for Army civilian employees there will increase, predicted the service’s under secretary.
Speaking at the Department of the Army Civilian Luncheon Oct. 15, during the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition here, Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson said the Army’s civilian workforce is indispensable. He pledged to continue support for career program development and training for civilians serving worldwide.
More than 1,000 Army civilians now serve in Afghanistan, Carson said, adding that more than 16,000 have served there over the past few years.
Army civilian employees assist with logistics, budgeting and planning, he said. Others help train Afghan security forces as part of the Advise and Assist program.
“The skills of the Army civilian workforce are as much needed as those brought by our military personnel,” he said.
With Soldiers now deploying to West Africa to help contain the Ebola epidemic, the under secretary predicted Army civilian employees will also assist with the mission there.
“For it is our civilians who possess those skills necessary to serve in positions like advisor to the minister of health, contract specialist, lawyer, engineer or safety (specialist),” Carson said. “So whether in Afghanistan or Sierra Leone or the many dusty places in between, this is not easy work and it is not work that is going away.”
A total of about 225,000 civilians currently work for the Army, Carson said, adding that’s only appropriated-fund employees. If non-appropriated fund, or NAF, employees were included, the total would be about 301,000.
Despite this workforce size, Carson said civilian personnel have not always been given the best professional development opportunities. Progress is being made, though, he said.
All Army civilians today are in one of 31 career programs. Just four years ago, only 40 percent had career programs.
That means four years ago, only 40 percent of the Army’s employees had access to funds for professional development, explained Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civilian Personnel Gwendolyn R. DeFilippi.
Professional staffs have been hired to assist career program managers, she said. Employees have been given access to Army Career Tracker — long used by Soldiers to chart career progression and now available to civilians.
“Indeed much effort has been spent to make life better for our civilian workforce,” Carson said.
In August, the Army launched the Civilian Acculturation Pilot Program. The program familiarizes new employees with the Army’s culture and mission at a number of installations and commands. The short-term goal of the program is to ease integration of new employees, Carson said. The long-term goal is to improve job satisfaction and retain talented professionals.
Since 2012, the Army has tripled the number of leadership development programs offered to civilians, Carson said. Programs have been established such as the Civilian Emergent Leadership Development Program initiated by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
Many strides have been made, Carson said, but more work needs to be done. He suggested more mentorship programs for civilian employees and a comprehensive talent management program for the workforce.
“I need your help,” he said to civilians in the audience, “Your ideas, your passion, your commitment. I believe that together, we and the Army can do some revolutionary things.”
The Army civilian workforce has a “long and rich tradition of service,” he said. He used the example of John Garand, developer of the M1 rifle.
Garand was a civilian firearms engineer who worked for the Army from 1919 to 1953. His M1 rifle was eventually lauded by Gen. George Patton “as the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
“Mr. Garand did not develop this mainstay of the American Soldier overnight,” though, Carson said. “His design was forged through years of deliberate trial and error — years rife with the inevitable failures that ultimately enabled success.”
He said Garand had something in common with Army employees of today: a desire to make a difference and to be part of a cause larger than himself.
Carson pointed to a current Army employee who made a difference — Ashley Russell, who with a graduate degree from the University of Chicago, originally took a GS-7 position with the Army Medical Command. As a GS-11, she led a review of the Army’s Medical Evaluation Board, or MEB, process at Fort Riley, Kansas.
At the time, MEBs were taking an average of 254 days at Fort Riley. Her team identified a number of processes that could be shortened, lowering the average MEB completion time there to 120 days.
Originally, narrative summaries that were supposed to be completed in five days were taking 60. She put together a standard for Medical Command that shortened the average completion time for narrative summaries by more than 50 days.
Russell, who now serves as a GS-12 with Army G-1, was recognized earlier this year at the Lean Six Sigma awards ceremony in the Pentagon.
She saved the Army millions of dollars by “vastly improving” the MEB process, Carson said. “More importantly her work made life better, simpler, easier for injured Soldiers and their families. And there is no price tag on that.”