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Pentagon resists services' efforts to increase personnel

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is resisting the call from all the armed services for additional personnel to meet growing operational demands, according to the Pentagon's top personnel manager.

Although some key members of Congress support increased manning levels, the only personnel change that Rumsfeld approved was 4,000 additional Marines to fill out the new anti-terrorism brigade, said David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, Thursday at a defense writers breakfast.

Instead, Rumsfeld has ordered the service leaders to review their use of personnel to see if there are lower priority jobs that can be eliminated, shifted to civilian employees or contracted out, he said. The secretary also is pushing the White House to drop some foreign commitments, such as the two-decades-long observer mission in the Sinai between Israel and Egypt, Chu said.

The administration also is opposing the effort by veterans' organizations and lawmakers to allow retired service members to collect both their retired pay and Department of Veterans Affairs payments for partial disabilities. Currently, any disability benefit results in an equal cut in retired pay.

Chu said the Pentagon is continuing a series of studies begun last year on dramatic changes in traditional personnel policies, such as the "up-or-out" promotion rules, frequent changes in duty stations and jobs and a normal career of only 20 years. He predicted that a number of proposed changes would be ready when the Defense Department presents a new budget to Congress next year.

Chu also said the military is unlikely to resume giving the controversial anthrax vaccine to all service members, despite the increased concerns about bioterrorism.

Determining which military personnel get the shots will be based on "an assessment of risk," said Chu.

Hundreds of service members have reported severe reactions to the previously mandatory anthrax shots. Several dozen personnel have refused to take the inoculations and have left the services or have been court-martialed for disobedience.

But the decision to scale back the anthrax inoculations is not due to any concern about the safety of the vaccine, which Chu said has been verified by a recent independent study. Instead, the military is restricting its use of the limited supply because of the need to "set aside a major part of the vaccine we have to protect the American people," Chu said.

Chu said the discovery of anthrax-laced letters last fall was "a wake-up call to the country about the threat of biological warfare." As a result, the threat of an outbreak of potentially lethal anthrax "is not a military problem, it's a national problem," he said.