Proposed cuts to Defense civilian jobs draw criticism

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. Charles Dharapak/AP File Photo

Senators are gearing up to debate language in the national Defense authorization bill that would cut the Defense Department’s civilian and contractor workforces by an estimated 5 percent through fiscal 2017.

The provision in the fiscal 2013 bill, which the Senate is debating now, could slash up to 36,000 jobs during the next five years. The reduction in military personnel resulting from the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan prompted Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to include the language directing the Defense secretary to also shrink the civilian workforce and contractors by a rate that is at least equal to the percentage of funding saved from planned troop reductions. Defense is reducing the active-duty and reserve force by 31,300 between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.

The Pentagon and several lawmakers oppose what they call arbitrary, across-the-board personnel cuts that don’t take into account the department’s workforce needs. Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin introduced an amendment earlier this week that would eliminate the language from the Defense authorization bill. “Automatic cuts to the civilian and contractor workforce is unlawful, ill-advised and could leave our nation vulnerable,” Cardin said in a statement. Certain personnel performing mission-critical jobs, including medical services and maintenance of military equipment, would not be part of the workforce reduction, according to language in the bill. The House version of the defense authorization bill does not contain the provisions calling for a workforce reduction.

“Legislatively implementing controls to reduce civilian employees would preclude the department from appropriately sizing its workforce to meets its mission workload,” the Defense Department noted in a draft of its views on the provision. “Even during this period of constrained defense budgets, we must ensure that we have a sufficient number of federal civilian personnel to meet the support needs of our military forces.” The White House also opposes the provision to reduce the Defense civilian and contractor workforce as does the American Federation of Government Employees.

The Pentagon already planned to reduce the civilian workforce by more than 10,000 between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013; a fiscal 2010 cap on civilian personnel remains in place. That cap does not apply to contractors.

The Senate fiscal 2013 Defense authorization bill also includes a 1.7 percent pay raise for service members in 2013. The Obama administration issued a statement Thursday saying senior advisers would recommend the president veto the legislation, in part because of the forced reduction in the civilian and contractor workforces and lawmakers’ rejection of a White House proposal to increase TRICARE fee and co-pays. The Senate bill does include increases to TRICARE co-pays, but they are more modest adjustments than those the administration is pushing.

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