DoD seeks to civilianize support positions

DoD seeks to civilianize support positions

Civilian employees have served in every major American war since the Revolution, freeing service members to concentrate on winning battles. That tradition continues today, as roughly 700,000 civilians serve the Defense Department throughout the United States and at least 17 foreign lands as well.

DoD is now trying to "civilianize" positions whenever possible as a way to save costs while minimizing impact on force effectiveness. According to a 1998 Rand Corp. report, there are two main reasons for this. First, military members are moved in and out of jobs frequently, so there are high turnover and training costs. Second, military members do not spend 100 percent of their time performing their assigned functions; they also have training requirements and other duties.

"Civilians provide stability in the organization," said Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. "Military people rotate between assignments every three years or so. DoD civilians are necessary to provide vital support that allows our warfighters to perform their mission."

DoD requirements call for personnel managers to employ civilians "in positions which do not require military incumbents for reasons of law, security, discipline, rotation, or combat readiness; which do not require a military background for successful performance of duties involved; and which do not entail unusual hours not normally associated or compatible with civilian employment."

"Anything that isn't military-essential, any position where the person isn't going into combat," said Pam Bartlett, a program analyst with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "You require the military to go to war, and you hire civilians to provide support for the military."

Civilian DoD employees generally fall into one of two pay systems, depending on whether they're in white-collar or blue-collar trades. Those in white-collar jobs, for instance, clerical, administrative, engineering or supply fields, are paid under the General Schedule. Others, for example, maintenance or food-preparation workers, are compensated under the Coordinated Federal Wage System.

The government also contracts with civilian firms for goods and services instead of directly hiring employees to do the work. This is because there are times when contractors are more cost-effective or they do certain things better, Bartlett said.

"Sometimes you contract for services because they're available from the private sector, and it wouldn't be cost effective to do it in house," she said, using telephone service as an example. "It's all a question of who provides the best value in terms of the dollars and the services provided."

Just because civilians aren't uniformed members of the armed forces doesn't mean they're out of harm's way. "It's as if DoD civilians live two lives," Disney said. "We live the life of a civil servant and the life of a defense employee."

Disney said civilians designated as "emergency essential," meaning their skills and abilities are crucial to mission success, are subject to deployment. About 4,500 DoD civilians deployed to Southwest Asia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for instance. Civilians are often issued military uniforms during deployments and may be authorized to carry weapons for personal protection.

"Designating civilians as emergency essential emphasizes the total force nature of DoD involvement," she said. "It's recognition that civilians are important members of the DoD team."