The Pentagon should rely more on its own civilian employees rather than contractors, union says.

The Pentagon should rely more on its own civilian employees rather than contractors, union says. Glowimages / Getty Images

Union to Defense Chief: You Aren't Using Your Own Employees Enough to Help Meet Global Threats

AFGE called on the Biden administration and Congress to align the Federal Wage System’s locality pay map with that of the General Schedule and advance legislation to improve Defense Department civilian police pay.

The nation’s largest federal employee union on Monday called on the Biden administration to lean on the Defense Department’s civilian workforce, not contractors, to meet its industrial production needs.

The need for military equipment has expanded with the United States increasingly working to arm Ukraine to fight Russia’s invasion that began in February 2022, and President Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act five times in recent months in connection with missile systems and other advanced weaponry. That law allows the president to require businesses to accept and prioritize contracts for materials deemed necessary for national defense.

But in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley said there’s one resource that remains underutilized: civilian employees of the Defense Department’s many industrial depots and other facilities.

“The nation is ramping up production to confront the multiple challenges to our security across the globe and has been calling on the private sector to help,” Kelley wrote. “We urge you as well to leverage the vast network of public industrial installations that maintain, overhaul and repair our multitude of complex weapon systems and equipment. The over 80,000 highly skilled public sector employees who work in these facilities stand ready to meet these national security challenges.”

Kelley argued that private industry is “not prepared” to respond to the increased demand for equipment caused by multiple global threats in addition to the conflict in Ukraine. Instead, by reinvigorating the Pentagon’s “organic defense production capability,” Defense Department facilities can be “mobilized on demand” to meet new challenges.

“These supply chain vulnerabilities can be corrected by fully employing the organic Defense production capability,” he wrote. “These vulnerabilities result from many causes, including insufficient U.S. manufacturing capacity, misaligned incentives, a focus on short-term returns in private markets, restrictive industrial policies of other nations, geographic concentration in global sourcing, and limited international coordination.”

Kelley called for the Biden administration to waive laws that AFGE claims favor non-competitive contracts, as well as reform the compensation of tens of thousands of underpaid Defense Department employees.

Specifically, AFGE renewed its call for the Biden administration to align the locality pay map of employees on the Federal Wage System, commonly called wage grade workers, to that of the General Schedule. At issue is the fact that, unlike the General Schedule’s locality pay areas, which are tweaked on a nearly annual basis to account for changing regional costs of living and commuting patterns, the Federal Wage System’s map is still based mostly on a decades-old map of domestic military bases and other facilities.

Legislation aimed at addressing this discrepancy was last advanced as part of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, but the proposal was ultimately left out of the final version of the bill.

“Report language from the fiscal 2021 and 2022 NDAA noted that ‘since 2010, the Federal Prevailing Rate Advisory Committee has voted three times to recommend that the Office of Personnel Management align Federal Wage System wage areas with General Schedule locality pay areas across the country,’” Kelley wrote. “The [advisory committee] recently recommended changing [appropriations legislation] by raising the cap on [wage grade] pay increases so that hourly workers can finally get the prevailing rates they were meant to receive . . . It is estimated that the annual cost of lifting the WG cap on pay adjustments would be about $254 million per year, primarily for about 212,000 employees in the Defense Department and other agencies.”

Kelley also urged the White House to throw its support behind the Law Enforcement Officers’ Equity Act (H.R. 1322), introduced by Reps. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., which would grant Defense Department civilian police officers with the same expanded pay and retirement benefits provided to the rest of the federal law enforcement community.

“DoD civilian police provide essential security and law enforcement for industrial base facilities but do not receive similar enhanced pay and retirement benefits to other federal law enforcement officers,” Kelley wrote. “The lack of comparable benefits threatens the recruitment and retention of DoD police, harms readiness and places stress on military forces.”

The union leader also noted that the Defense Department’s industrial base could be expanded simply by converting many of its temporary hires into permanent positions.

“The department should consider converting term or temporary workers in depots and ammunition plants to more stable jobs, using the authority provided in [the fiscal 2024 NDAA],” Kelley wrote. “Many of these temporary employees are really performing enduring functions, perpetuating a bad business practice from the era of sequestration when such appointments were exempted from reductions.”