Defense needs one departmentwide personnel strategy, report says

The Defense Department needs one broad personnel plan that includes military and civilian employees and ensures they can properly oversee an increasing number of contractors, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

The department is working with three separate workforce plans-one for the military, one for civilians, and one for the families of service members, according to the GAO report (03-475). None of those plans include a strategy to ensure Defense has enough skilled managers to oversee an expanding contractor workforce, the report said.

"Without an integrated strategy, DoD may not effectively and efficiently allocate its scarce resources for optimal readiness," the report said.

Civilian personnel are critical to Defense missions and help fight the global war on terrorism by gathering intelligence, managing finances, and acquiring and maintaining weapons systems, GAO said. But civilians are not incorporated into the Pentagon's plans for putting the "right people, in the right place, at the right time and at a reasonable cost."

Officials from the Air Force, Marine Corps, Defense Contract Management Agency, and Defense Finance and Accounting Service are working with civilian human resources offices to discuss personnel needs. A similar partnership is emerging in the Army, but is nonexistent in the Navy, the report said.

GAO recommended that Defense set a timetable for merging its three personnel strategies. The resulting departmentwide plan should include a plan for collecting data on the current workforce's skills and identify where gaps exist, the report said. To get a complete picture of current workforce talents, Defense will also have to gather information on contractors' skills.

Departmentwide information on workforce skills sets would help Defense cut jobs wisely, GAO said. From 1989 to 2002, the department eliminated 38 percent of civilian jobs. Defense plans on cutting 55,000 additional civilian positions by the end of fiscal 2007.

In the past, Defense had no logical plan for eliminating jobs, GAO claimed. Instead, the department "let people go willy nilly because it had to get down to a certain number," according to Derek Stewart, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO. "DoD does not have a clear vision in terms of what it wants its civilian workforce to look like," he said.

In addition, Defense needs a better set of measures to determine how its civilian workforce is performing, GAO said. The performance goals established by agencies within Defense should relate directly to the department's broader mission, according to the report.

David Chu, undersecretary for personnel and readiness at the department, told GAO that he appreciated the recommendations and will take steps to address them. But he also said the report did not reflect progress on civilian management. GAO began its research in May 2002, a month after Defense released its first comprehensive civilian human resources strategic plan, Chu said. The department is still working on implementing the plan, he said.

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