Army sets stage to slash 8,700 civilian jobs

Department of Defense
With the ink barely dry on debt-ceiling legislation, the Army has announced details of a plan to reduce its force by more than 8,700 civilian positions by the end of September 2012.

The execution order for a move first announced in July has drawn strong opposition from the American Federation of Government Employees.

The cuts, the Army said in a news release Thursday, are based on Pentagon resource decisions made both in President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget and by policies announced earlier this year by now-departed Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"We are in a very challenging fiscal environment and understand the impact these cuts will have on our civilians and their families," said Thomas R. Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs. "Tough choices have to be made, but we'll make them in a thoughtful and deliberate manner that best supports the Army's mission."

Some 30 Army commands and agencies will have 30 days to develop plans and schedules for cutting the civilian workforce as well as identifying the needed organizational and personnel actions.

The units most affected are the Installation Management Command, the Army Material Command, the Training and Doctrine Command and Army Department Headquarters, which together will absorb about 80 percent of the cuts. Commanders are encouraged to make the reductions using Voluntary Early Retirement Authority and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments.

Army Secretary John McHugh, as reported byFederal Times, when initially announcing the plan in July, said Army agencies may not use contractors to replace the departed civilian employees. McHugh's own office will lose 821 employees, the Training and Doctrine Command will lose 571, and the 7th Army in Europe will lose 430 employees.

The Army currently employs 343,815 civilians counting foreign nationals, according to service spokesmen, but the universe affected by these cuts is slightly more than 106,650 cemployees.

As the union representing Army civilian workers, AFGE has been working with sympathetic lawmakers to challenge the Defense's larger-scale efficiency initiative, which caps the size of the civilian workforce at fiscal 2010 levels. In letters, the union calls the program "contrary to current laws that prohibit DoD from managing the civilian workforce through arbitrary personnel ceilings." AFGE also is keeping watch on whether the Army sticks to its plan to avoid new contractors.

AFGE Legislative Representative John Threlkeld told Government Executive, "There's no question that the defense spending will be reduced, particularly given the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. AFGE's concern is the flawed approach that the department has taken towards its overall workforce . . . In order to intelligently examine spending, the department must finally complete its service contractor inventory and then integrate the results into the budget process. Only then will DoD be able to identify and control contractor spending in the way that it has always been able to identify and control civilian personnel spending."

Threlkeld said the union does not believe the Army performed sufficient analysis before planning the cuts. "We learned from the ruinous downsizing of the 1990s that cutting the civilian workforce arbitrarily, without regard to budgets and workloads, poorly serves taxpayers and warfighters," he said. "Worse, we know that the initial round of cuts will be more than what has been announced this week and but less than the 33,000 figure leaked earlier."

The 2011 Budget Control Act introduces new urgency and uncertainty to Defense's workforce. As White House budget director Jack Lew wrote Thursday in a blog, "The agreement just signed into law would achieve slightly more security savings than the president first proposed in April. Under baseline estimates, it would cut approximately $420 billion over 10 years. Assuming roughly proportional cuts, we project that of that $420 billion, $350 billion would be from the budget category of defense, and approximately $330 billion of that would be specifically from the Department of Defense."

Newly installed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently expressed hope that his department can achieve such cuts, but warned that the new law's automatic triggers that kick in should Congress' special new committee fail to find savings, would devastate national security. "Make no mistake, we will face some very tough challenges as we try to meet those numbers, but those numbers are within the ballpark" of discussions with the White House, Panetta said. "We have the opportunity to make those decisions based on sound policy."

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