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Army Briefs Hill On Civilian Cuts; Methods But No Numbers

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on

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An Army civilian assembles an jammer to disable roadside bombs

WASHINGTON: The Army has another 40,000 troops to cut, but how many of the civilians who support them will have to go? The answer to that is actually getting more uncertain.

In July, the service reported to Congress that “total Army-wide civilian reductions through FY19 are expected to be ~17,000.” The more the service wrestles with the calculations, however, the more complex they get, and an Army spokesman told me this morning that the 17,000 estimate is no longer to be relied on.

“We jumped the gun with the 17,000 figure we announced in July,” Lt. Col. Joe Buccino said frankly. “What we found is that civilian manpower is more complex and decentralized–and less predictable–than [military] end-strength. There are complexities and inputs that we did not immediately account for. [That said, those] are complexities and inputs that have since accounted for.”

So when Army officials brief Congress today on the reductions, what they’ll have to share with staffers is “the methodology and process by which the Army is reducing civilian manpower,” the service announced this morning. However, “we are not announcing specific numbers of civilian reductions by installations.” Those specifics, of course, are what local legislators are dying to know.

But the Army can’t tell them those numbers yet. It’s not that the Army won’t share them: It just doesn’t have numbers to share — not even a rough aggregate Army-wide, let alone the sort of details lawmakers want to know — how many will be cut at which bases. “Reductions at specific locations and the total number of reductions required across the force are difficult to predict,” the statement says. Put this together with what Buccino told me this morning, and it becomes clear the service is still working out the math.

Why are civilians so much harder to plan for? Military personnel’s careers are managed in a highly (even excessively) centralized manner out of the Pentagon. The system may tend to send Arabic speakers to Korea, rotate officers through assignments too fast for them to get good at any one thing, and blindly bulldoze over individuals’ personal preferences. But it is very, very good at its central mission: making sure the military has the number of personnel Congress authorized, in the right ranks and pay grades, and tracking where all of them are. If Congress passes a budget saying “cut X,000 soldiers,” the bureaucracy salutes and executes.

Federal civilians are different. Even in the Army Department, there are multiple organizations — bases, agencies, commands — that each have authority to hire and fire. The number of civilians each entity needs, moreover, depends in large part on how many soldiers it has to support — but it’s not a linear ratio.

Army civilians and contractors at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, after a drone test.

Army civilians and contractors at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, after a live-fire drone test.

Cutting one soldier doesn’t mean cutting one civilian, especially as support organizations get smaller and lose efficiencies of scale. Some civilian jobs don’t support troops directly but instead run things like the development, testing, and acquisition of new equipment, and how much work they’d be funded to do was up in the air until the budget deal last week. (In fact, with $5 billion left to cut from the budget somewhere, question marks remain). Finally, the Army would prefer to reduce its civilian workforce, where possible, by natural attrition rather than through demoralizing mass layoffs, but letting people decide to leave on their own is less predictable than just shoving them out the door.

Amidst this complexity, coming up with a “methodology and process” is in itself a minor triumph. It’s doubtful, however, that legislators anxious about home-state jobs will see it that way.

The full text of the Army’s announcement follows:

Greetings —

            Today the Department of the Army will meet with congressional staffers to share the methodology and process by which the Army is reducing civilian manpower.

            The Army’s civilian workforce is now being reduced along with military end-strength reductions to meet legislative mandates and ongoing budget constraints.  As analysis of civilian manpower is a continuous process and civilian attrition is dynamic, reductions at specific locations and the total number of reductions required across the force are difficult to predict.  Therefore, we are not announcing specific numbers of civilian reductions by installations.

            The official Army statement is below, attributable to Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, Army spokesman:

            “Ongoing budget reductions and other legislative mandates require the Army to reduce the size of its total force, to include civilians and contractors. As a result, Department of the Army civilian manpower is being reduced along with active duty military end-strength reductions announced in July 2015. Our people are our most important resource and the Army understands the impact of these decisions on its civilian employees and their families.  The Army will ensure these reductions minimize the impact to the force, our mission, and our communities while providing the greatest level of assistance to affected employees.”

            A few other notes:

            –  The Army is mandated to manage the civilian workforce according to workload within available funding.  We will ensure a workforce that is properly sized to support the Army mission.

            –  While some Reductions-in-Force will be necessary, the majority of these reduction will occur through the use of attrition and voluntary incentives.

            –  Army civilians are a critical part of our Total Force that includes our soldiers, families, contractors and civilians.  We will provide all available transitional resources for those civilians affected by the reductions.

            –  Since 2011, the Army has actively taken measures to align our civilian workforce with our reducing Army end-strength.  As a result, there are fewer on board today than programmed.  The Army has taken a series of actions over the past two years that have reduced the impact of these reductions on our civilian workforce, such as implementation of hiring freezes, voluntary incentives, and headquarters reductions. In addition, Army headquarters has determined and refined workforce and workload requirements, conducted direct hires, and directed reductions at all two-star and above headquarters. This has allowed the Army to balance civilian workforce across Army missions and functions and lessened the strain of these reductions on our force.


Updated 1:10 pm to clarify Lt. Col. Buccino’s remarks.

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