The Pentagon’s civilian workforce, which expanded dramatically during President Obama’s first three years, is not facing any significant reductions even as the Defense Department is slashing ground troops by more than 10 percent, retiring ships and combat planes, and putting off the purchases of some new weapons.
President Bush’s last budget, for fiscal 2009, pegged Defense Department civilians at 739,000, according to the department’s latest “Green Book” budget document on total spending.
This year, the number of civilians sits at 801,000, an increase of 62,000 personnel, or 8 percent; it is expected to decline by 1 percent next year.
Some defense analysts say this was not supposed to happen.
In the summer of 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced a series of cost-saving initiatives that included keeping civilian employees to that year’s number of 778,000. The services started issuing press releases on the number of civilian jobs they had erased.
Two years later, civilian employment has risen by 23,000 personnel.
At about the same time as the Gates downsizing push, the Defense Business Board, a Pentagon advisory panel to the defense secretary, issued a report calling for a 15 percent decrease in civilian employees.
“That has not happened,” said Arnold Punaro, who led the task force.
Mr. Punaro, a retired Marine Corps Reserve major general who headed the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Democratic staff, said the defense budget is suffering through rapid increases in personnel overhead costs at the expense of troops.
“While the fighting force is coming down, the overhead continues to grow,” he said. “It was an adverse ratio to start with, and it’s getting worse. You want to put your money in the tip of the spear, not in the rear with the gear.”
Overhead and cost savings
“They are not reducing the overhead they way they need to. George Bush did not do it, and Obama hasn’t done it either,” Mr. Punaro said. “When you are downsizing the fighting side of the Army and Marine Corps, shouldn’t we take a hard look at headquarters and overhead?”
The Pentagon offers reasons for the growing wartime civilian workforce under Mr. Obama.
“The department’s civilian growth is largely tied to key strategic initiatives, including improved acquisition practices, increased medical support for our troops and their families, and greater protection of our [information technology] systems,” said Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“As a result, there were increases in the acquisition workforce, the medical support staff, and the cyber/IT staff. There were also military-to-civilian conversions to get the military back to their primary responsibilities, and as a cost-saving measure, the department insourced contractor positions to civilian positions,” she said.