A new watchdog report shows that although the Pentagon has no idea how many civilian workers it actually needs, that hasn’t stopped it from exploding in size while simultaneously proposing to slash the pay and benefits of military personnel.
At a time when total active military staff has declined by 4 percent between 2001 and 2014, the number of civilian staff has climbed by 15 percent, which has only served to escalate the existing tension between the Pentagon and the military. From 2009 onward, the Office of the Secretary of Defense has grown by 18 percent, reaching up to 2,000 employees in total. The Government Accountability Office notes that the Pentagon hasn’t conducted any systematic overviews to determine whether it might be overstaffed. No processes exist to determine the limits.
The reason the Department of Defense civilian workforce has expanded so rapidly dates back to 2002, when the hard, statutory limits Congress imposed on the Pentagon in the 1980s and 1990s were lifted to accommodate new mandates in the post-9/11 era. If the limits were still in place today, the Navy would be 74 percent over the line.
“We need long-term budget predictability and we need the flexibility to prioritize and make the difficult decisions in order to manage our institution more efficiently and more effectively,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said at a Thursday press conference, alluding to the administration’s priorities of cutting back on personnel and benefits. According to Hagel, if Congress doesn’t budge, it will force a sequestration. Congress, however, feels the exact same way about the Pentagon.
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Congress isn’t happy, and neither is the military. Lowered pay raises and deep cuts into cost-of-living allowances have left some in the military wondering where the administration’s priorities lie. (RELATED: Congress Prepares For A Dogfight With Pentagon Over Military Personnel Cuts)
“A critical component of our national security strategy is the proper allocation of scarce federal resources,” Republican Rep. Kevin Calvert said. “The continued growth in our civilian staff at the DoD comes at a time when we are reducing the number of active-duty military personnel– something is clearly wrong with that equation.”
Lawmakers aren’t willing to sit around and wait until the Pentagon gets its act together. Instead, Calvert is leading an effort to reduce the Pentagon’s workforce by 115,000 civilian jobs through the Rebalance for an Effective Defense Uniform and Civilian Employees (REDUCE) Act. The legislation is almost identical to the bill proposed in the spring of last year, which ultimately failed to pass. The REDUCE Act would save around $82.5 billion dollars a year.
No “strategy can succeed under the mindless mechanism of sequestration,” Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement warning the Obama administration. “President Obama’s own military commanders have repeatedly warned of the strategic folly of cutting $1 trillion from our national defense at a time when threats to our security continue to multiply… Sadly, on this vital issue, as on so many others, the leadership of our commander in chief is nowhere to be seen.”
The Government Accountability Office recommended that Congress consider reattaching statutory limits on civilian personnel in the Pentagon. The watchdog also told the Pentagon to come up with a systematic way of calculating how many employees are needed to achieve mission objectives.
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