Defense should focus on procurement, civilian workforce, official says

To maintain the agile and well-equipped forces needed to win the war on terrorism, the Defense Department should make procurement strategies a higher priority and devote more attention to managing its civilian workforce, a Pentagon official told participants at a management conference Wednesday.

The military cannot possibly prepare for every threat that might come up, but it can work to develop forces that can respond quickly to a widely dispersed and unorthodox enemy, David Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness at the Defense Department, told those at a conference organized by the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank.

These needs will pose a significant challenge for Defense managers, according to Chu-a much larger challenge than managers faced during the Cold War when the United States faced a single opponent with clear objectives, he added.

Managers can help the military succeed against new threats by thinking creatively and looking into the future rather than concentrating solely on short-term operational problems, Chu said. In recent years, the Pentagon has taken more of a reactive approach to threats, addressing current needs but devoting little time to making sure the military is well-equipped and adequately staffed for years into the future, he explained.

The Defense Department has plenty of innovative equipment at its fingertips, Chu said. But it took a "procurement holiday" throughout the 1990s and needs to start making up for lost ground, he said. He suggested that the department allocate more of its budget toward procurement in the coming year.

In addition, Defense should focus on modernizing and creatively using existing equipment, Chu said. For instance, some soldiers rode on horseback, an age-old means of transportation, to navigate the terrain in Afghanistan, but they carried high-tech wireless equipment with them.

The department also must do a better job addressing the needs of its 675,000 civilian workers, Chu said. While these workers might not be on the front lines, they provide critical support and logistics planning for the war on terrorism, he added. Defense is just now beginning to devise strategies to improve civilian recruiting and reshape the civilian workforce's image. The department is also trying to ease tensions between civilian government employees and contractors.

Defense has also developed a draft plan for improving civilian management. The draft plan suggests a more flexible pay system in which workers would not be awarded an automatic, across-the-board annual pay increase, but would be compensated based on performance. Under the proposed plan, the Pentagon would be in charge of civilian Defense personnel, which is currently under the control of the Office of Personnel Management.

In contrast to the department's management of its civilian workforce, Defense has focused on recruiting and retaining a top-notch military workforce, Chu said. According to Chu, the U.S. military is constantly seeking ways to boost the morale of its approximately 1.4 million active duty members and 1.2 million Reserve and Guard members by compensating forces adequately and making sure that they enjoy a high quality of life on base and a reasonable balance of work and family life.

The Defense Department has developed several measures, including satisfaction surveys for service members, to find out whether the military has a large and happy workforce, he added.

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