Budget cuts should not come at expense of civilian workforce, Pentagon officials say

Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work, left; Undersecretary of the Air Force Jamie Morin, right Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work, left; Undersecretary of the Air Force Jamie Morin, right Sarah Scully/GovExec.com

The Defense Department’s civilian workforce plays a critical role in supporting the armed forces’ evolving mission and broad cuts to that workforce would be very harmful, top Pentagon officials said during a Washington event Thursday.

Panelists at a discussion hosted by Government Executive spoke of the need to refocus efforts in the Pacific region and to adapt to the ongoing reality of trimmed budgets, whether or not the automatic cuts known as sequestration go into effect on Jan. 2, 2013.

 “We’re well past the point of doing more with less,” said Bob Work, undersecretary of the Navy. “We’ll be doing less with less in the future.”

The panelists discussed ways to ensure that as two wars end, the military remain robust enough to take on any challenger but agile enough to adapt to new circumstances. “The drawdowns . . .  necessitated the strategy retool,” said Jamie Morin, undersecretary of the Air Force. “The fiscal environment made it all the more pressing, but we would have relooked at the strategy regardless of the fiscal environment.”

That environment has begun to influence planning, however, as the panel acknowledged the Pentagon has begun preparing for sequestration.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed we don’t fall off the fiscal cliff,” said Work, who added the planning is in “very, very preliminary stages.”

Despite whatever cuts may be looming, the panelists discussed the need to sustain the civilian workforce.

“The last four years I’ve seen what the government workforce does, and I guarantee you . . . there is no better workforce in the world, period,” said Work, adding any attempts shrink the number of nonuniformed Defense employees would be extremely detrimental. “Those types of blunt instruments are as bad as sequestration.”

The Senate’s version of the fiscal 2013 Defense authorization bill includes a provision that would cut the department’s civilian and contractor workforce by 5 percent during the next five years.

Morin called the Air Force’s civilian workforce “absolutely essential” and “deeply integrated” in the department’s mission.

The panelists emphasized the need to always look to the future and said while Congress and the Office of Management and Budget are planning appropriations for 2013, they are looking much farther down the road.

“If we’re not more technologically advanced in 2020,” Morin warned, “we’ll be irrelevant.”

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