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About That Boom! in the Pentagon’s Civilian Workforce

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Pentagon clerical workers, 1950.

What is most remarkable about the Pentagon’s massive growth in its civilian workforce is not that it expanded after 9/11, alongside the military’s much smaller increase. Rather, it has been the unchecked boost in Pentagon civilian manpower that has occurred since the financial collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008.

While the rest of America — particularly private-sector companies and many U.S. families — tried to constrain their budgets and spending since the recession began … the nation’s largest employer just kept on growing.

Even more astonishing was that this growth in people — the Pentagon’s single most-expensive weapon system and asset — occurred as defense budgets were coming down.

Since President Obama took office, he has cut the defense budget by 10%. The President has significantly reduced the planned sizes of the Army and Marine Corps. He has overseen the cancellation of dozens of major equipment programs, and ended production at several long-standing marquee manufacturing lines across the country.

But the President has grown the size of the federal civilian workforce during his tenure. And the 760,000-large Pentagon civilian workforce is no exception.

Since coming into office, the President has set into motion a plan to cut the active-duty military by roughly 12%. Meanwhile, the Department of Defense civilian workforce has grown by about 13 percent.

Leaving the civilian workforce untouched from the budget squeeze is even more questionable in light of the dramatic level of effort the President has demanded from the military to cut costs. In the President’s 2011 defense budget, he began a major initiative led by then-defense secretary Robert Gates to identify over $100 billion in so-called efficiency savings over the next five years. Then again in 2012 and 2013, the White House directed another $200-plus billion be cut in the name of flab. Once again for 2014, the military is on the hook for more additional efficiencies — also known as reductions — to the tune of $34 billion.

The sheer volume of supposed “efficiencies” billed to the military has become so large that it is seen as little more than a thinly-veiled budget cut that is not only unachievable but is also being paid in pain inflicted on critical readiness and modernization efforts.

While more efficiency sounds worthy as a goal, what made these efforts little more than a budget drill was the lack of seriousness at the top. When Secretary Gates began this drive to squeeze ever more out of the Defense Department, he chose targets that were more often military than civilian.

And Gates conveniently left his own office out of the entire effort to do more with less.

Since Obama’s first year in office, the size of the Office of the Secretary of Defense civilian workforce has grown to more than 2,000 people, or nearly 18%.

With military detailees and contractors, the secretary’s office now totals nearly 5,000 people. That’s not an office staff – that’s a office brigade.

Defense News reports that this workforce may finally be included in “the bite of the budget-cut fever that is gripping Washington.” Although it is unclear if the target for reductions are actual civilian billets and bodies, or whether the focus is on the supporting contractor workforce that comes out of the private sector.

If Secretary Chuck Hagel really wants to lead by example — and demonstrate a commitment to long-overdue internal reform — there is no smarter place to start than with his own over-populated staff.

1 comments
JimDolbow
JimDolbow

Great article Mackenzie.  Our first Secretary of Defense James Forrestal had a staff of 4 according to his biography, The Driven Patriot:  The life and Times of James Forrestal