House committee looks to cut Pentagon acquisition workforce

Tens of thousands of members of the Pentagon acquisition workforce would lose their jobs under a provision of the Defense Authorization bill approved by the House Armed Services Committee last week. The measure would reduce an acquisition corps that was slashed by half during the downsizing of the 1990s and is expected to shrink again in the next few years. At Defense, the average age of acquisition workers is in the mid-40s, and more than half will be eligible for retirement between 2005 and 2007. The provision calls for 13,000 acquisition jobs to be cut, in order to increase funding for military personnel and new weapons projects, according to the committee. "Despite several years of congressional efforts to encourage fundamental changes to Defense's acquisition infrastructure, reforms continue to be necessary to reduce costly overhead and to free up resources for combat-mission areas," the committee said in an Aug. 1 summary of the bill. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is the author of this provision, according to his spokesman Michael Harrison. For years, Hunter has inserted similar language into the Defense authorization bill. "[Hunter] thinks we need to take care of the military men and women in [Defense] and maybe we don't need as many civilian employees as we've had in the past," said Harrison. Hunter's provision has always been removed when the bill heads to conference, according to Steven Kelman, a former administrator of the Office of Procurement Policy in the Clinton administration and now a professor of public management at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. The rise of performance-driven contracting techniques means the Pentagon cannot afford further cuts in its acquisition corps, Kelman said. "[Downsizing] did not take place because there was less work for these people to do," he said. "There is no significant decline in their workload." The civilian acquisition workforce numbers about 120,000 workers today, down from a peak of 310,000 in 1989. This figure includes all the employees who contribute to the acquisition process, including engineers, program analysts and contract officers. The committee describes the provision as a tool to promote reform of the Pentagon's acquisition infrastructure. But cutting 13,000 workers may not be enough to make the Pentagon change how it does business, according to Terry Little, a project manager at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

"The cuts are not nearly enough to force any fundamental changes in the ways of doing business and there is no guarantee that the cuts will be in the right areas or that the reductions won't be offset by hiring added nongovernment personnel," said Little.

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