Provision slashing up to 36,000 Defense jobs stays alive

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is pushing the cuts. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is pushing the cuts. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The Senate defeated an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that would have halted an effort to cut the department’s civilian and contractor workforces by an estimated 5 percent through fiscal 2017.

The failure of the amendment, offered by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., means a provision that could slash up to 36,000 Defense jobs will remain in the Senate’s fiscal 2013 bill. 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 Senate approved the bill Tuesday evening. The House-passed version does not contain the provisions calling for a workforce reduction.

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.

“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. 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.

McCain last week praised civilian Defense workers 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.”

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 last week 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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