Report recommends overhaul of Navy personnel system

The U.S. Navy's civilian personnel system will require a major strategic overhaul to meet future workforce demands, according to a new report by the National Academy of Public Administration. The study, "Civilian Workforce 2020: Strategies for Modernizing Human Resources Management in the Department of the Navy," proposes an ambitious workforce planning strategy for the Navy to address major changes in its civilian workforce. The report is part of a broader Navy review of personnel policies aimed at creating the workforce of two decades from now. "The Navy's civilian service workforce will evolve into a smaller, more technical kind of workforce," said Frank P. Cipolla, director of the center for human resources management at the academy. "[Civilian] responsibilities will be not only to provide expertise in scientific and technical fields, but to oversee the work that contractors do." Since 1989, the Navy's civilian workforce has shrunk by 44 percent. The report recommends that the Navy better integrate workforce planning with the needs of its various mission 'clients' - the surface, submarine, and air warfare groups. To adapt to a changing labor market, the department should also press to amend its status under Title 5 of the Civil Service System so it has authority to use pay banding and flexible hiring practices, the report finds. Under this scenario, the Navy's human resources system would be controlled by the Department of Defense. "The Title 5 system doesn't have to be replaced if it can be made more flexible to accommodate the need to align human resources systems more closely with the mission 'communities,'" said Cipolla. In one of its most far-reaching recommendations, the report suggests the Navy replace the concept of "career service" with a system of "National Defense Service." Under this system, all military, civilian and contractor employees within a defined mission community could be transferred within that community to new projects as they developed. For example, personnel in the air warfare community would be eligible to be transferred to any job for which they were qualified within the community after three years of service.

"Our idea in describing that concept was to give Navy leadership something to look at in the long term as a way of achieving their objective for a totally integrated force," Cipolla said. "Obviously, there are a lot of factors to address to get from here to there." One such factor is what role civilians will play in the Navy workforce of the future. Navy leaders hold differing views on whether more duties performed by civil servants should be contracted out, according to interviews conducted for the report. In addition, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig has encouraged such support work as ship painting to be shifted from sailors to civilians, a trend that could mean more work for civil servants or contractors. "It does appear that over time, some of these support jobs that the military currently do in the shore establishment will be done to a greater extent by civilians," said Cipolla. "That doesn't mean civil servants, necessarily. It could mean contractors, depending on what kind of work." The academy interviewed numerous Navy and Marine Corps personnel, held discussions with human resources experts and conducted field visits and focus groups to compile the report. The academy has briefed Danzig and Carolyn Becraft, Navy assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, on the report's findings. The report will be available for NAPA members shortly. Non-members who wish to view the report can order it by calling 301-617-7801.

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