Rumsfeld ready to restructure Defense workforce

New personnel rules about to be developed and implemented at the Pentagon will give managers the flexibility to reorganize their offices and will help reduce the stress on uniformed and civilian forces, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday.

During a town hall-style meeting with civilian and military personnel, Rumsfeld lauded new personnel legislation approved by Congress earlier this month. The legislation gives Rumsfeld the authority to throw out the General Schedule classification system and replace it with a new pay-for-performance system.

The legislation allows Defense managers to hire highly skilled workers more quickly, promote top employees, and fire poor ones. Defense officials will also be able to rewrite the rules governing collective bargaining with labor unions and establish a new internal appeals system for employees to protest disciplinary decisions. More than 700,000 employees will be affected by the changes once they become law.

At the meeting, a civilian worker recently transferred to the Pentagon because of a Navy reduction-in-force criticized Defense efforts to downsize and put civilian jobs up for competition with private firms.

"With such a higher tempo, why are we continuing to commercialize or have commercial activity studies, when I've seen studies that we're not actually saving that great amount of money?" she asked. "Why are we downsizing and RIFing many of the civilians?"

Rumsfeld said he was unaware of any large-scale civilian RIFs. "I don't believe we are downsizing or RIFing so many civilians," Rumsfeld said. "I'm just not aware of it. Sorry."

According to Rumsfeld, as many as 300,000 jobs currently performed by uniformed military personnel could be performed by civilians or contractors. New personnel rules will allow managers to reorganize their offices as needed.

"There are things that it makes sense for civilian employees to do; there are things that it makes sense for contractors to do; and there are things that it makes sense for people in uniform to do," Rumsfeld said. "Managers are much more likely to reach for the right solution now that this flexibility is going to be available to us and will be rolled in and implemented over the coming year."

Gen. Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised Defense personnel.

"You might spend the day manning the operations centers, chairing discussions, drafting plans for the future, providing administration and personnel support, or doing research and analysis, or the myriad of other things that we're involved in around here," Meyers said. "You don't make CNN or the Washington Post, or at least not very often, and probably not on purpose. But what you do is incredibly important."

When asked whether the Pentagon might change its policy on promotions and forced retirements of military personnel, Rumsfeld said he believed Defense needs flexible rules that encourage people to remain in positions longer than they currently do. According to Rumsfeld, service members average 18 months in a post before they are transferred or promoted.

"It's not that everybody ought to necessarily serve a longer period in a given post, and it's not that everybody would necessarily want to stay in the service longer," he said. "But it seems to me that we ought to have a sufficiently flexible set of personnel rules so that people can, if they would like to and if it's appropriate, stay somewhat longer in their tenure."

Pentagon officials are also trying to determine if the size of the military should be increased, and will rebalance forces by moving some National Guard and Reserve capabilities into active duty and shifting some active-duty capabilities to the Guard and Reserve.

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