House lawmakers want colleagues to drop provision slashing up to 36,000 Pentagon jobs

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pushed the cuts. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pushed the cuts. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Washington-area House lawmakers are asking their colleagues to get rid of a provision in the Senate fiscal 2013 Defense authorization bill that could slash up to 36,000 civilian and contractor jobs at the Pentagon.

The lawmakers expressed concern in a draft letter to House-Senate negotiators that the Senate language would limit the Defense Department’s “ability to respond with the flexibility and discretion necessary to maintain a civilian workforce of sufficient size to adequately support our troops and to perform the department’s critical oversight, management and readiness functions.”

The provision, inserted into the legislation by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., directs the Defense secretary to cut the department’s civilian and contractor workforce by an estimated 5 percent through fiscal 2017. The House-passed version of the bill does not include the language.

So far, Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; Elijah Cummings, D-Md.; Donna Edwards, D-Md.; Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; Jim Moran, D-Va.; Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; and Frank Wolf, R-Va.; and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., have signed the letter.

The reduction in military personnel resulting from the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan prompted McCain to include the language 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 decreasing the active-duty and reserve force by 31,300 between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.

Pentagon officials and several lawmakers oppose what they call arbitrary, across-the-board personnel cuts that don’t take into account the department’s workforce needs. The department already has 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.

“Legislatively implementing controls to reduce civilian employees would preclude the department from appropriately sizing its workforce to meet 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.

Certain personnel performing mission-critical jobs, including medical services and maintenance of military equipment, would not be part of the downsizing, according to language in the Senate bill.

McCain last month praised civilian Defense workers on the Senate floor but also said that no area of the department should be off limits when it comes to savings. “I am well aware that the department has already developed plans to reduce its civilian employee workforce by 2 to 3 percent over a five-year period, and is achieving additional savings through an ongoing pay freeze for its civilian employees,” McCain said Nov. 28 on the Senate floor. “However, these [efficiency] initiatives were developed before the current budget crunch and fall short of the 5 percent reduction planned for military end strength.”

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