Details lacking on White House proposal for civilian reserve corps

Details were scarce Wednesday on the volunteer "civilian reserve corps" proposed by President Bush during his State of the Union address as a way to relieve strains on the military.

In his Tuesday night speech, Bush said he would work with Congress to build a civilian group analogous to the military's reserve forces that would "ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad."

The proposal appeared to differ from an Iraq Study Group recommendation that the federal government, especially the Defense and State departments and the director of national intelligence, act more aggressively to place civilians in directed assignments overseas if positions cannot be filled through normal, voluntary means.

Bush's proposal seems to resemble an initiative funded in the fiscal 2005 Intelligence Authorization Act that created a Civilian Linguistic Reserve Corps. That pilot project, which was authorized to run for three years, created a listing of civilians with critical language skills who could be called up to service by the director of national intelligence.

The White House on Wednesday did not make available any further information on the new program, and a Defense spokesman said he was not familiar with the proposal.

A State Department spokesman said he could not address the program, but said that, contrary to reports in the media, the agency is having no trouble filling posts in difficult and dangerous areas. "We've been able to fill all the positions with qualified people," he said.

The Defense Department already hires thousands of civilians for its overseas missions through extensive contracting for support and services. But contractors are bound by agreements that define the terms of work to be performed, leaving field commanders with much less flexibility than if the individuals worked directly for the department.

Bush is not the first to suggest the formation of a civilian reserve group.

Kris Alexander, who writes a blog at, part of a membership-based organization for the military community, wrote Wednesday that he presented a similar idea last year at a symposium of the Army Combined Arms Center Combat Studies Institute.

Alexander's presentation centered on the haphazard system that he said fills many of the military's nation-building stability and support slots with just 7,000 military reservists who are not recruited specifically for their skills. "In effect, we are relying on a crapshoot to determine if we have the skilled professionals we need in the military to rebuild war-shattered nations," he said, noting that the system relies on the hope that the veterans who joined the Army years before have acquired applicable skills like police work and firefighting.

Alexander suggested that many Americans would be eager to serve their country through a broader civilian reserve program. "They would train like reservists and be available for deployment like reservists," he wrote. "They would join with the understanding that they could be put in harm's way."

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, in his 2004 presidential campaign, also proposed to create a civilian reserve force as part of his vision of a "new American patriotism."

Representatives of federal employee unions on Wednesday declined to comment on Bush's proposal, saying they preferred to wait until they had more details.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.