Brookings Institution Event on Public Service

U.S. Department of Defense Speeches, June 3, 2003 | Go to article overview

Brookings Institution Event on Public Service


Remarks as delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Press Club, Washington, DC, Tuesday, June 3, 2003.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Thank you, Strobe, for your hospitality, and Paul Light, for your efforts to promote the cause of civil service reform. I was listening to your remarks, and I take it that when you were talking about government, you were referring to the civil side of government, not the military side, because they--and the military, of course, is part of government. And my guess is from the surveys I've seen the answers would come out somewhat differently if we looked at the military side.

Paul Volcker, it's good to see you as always, my friend.

The Department of Defense does have a serious problem. The system for recruiting, retaining, managing the federal workforce on the civilian side is clearly not working well--some would say broken. Paul Volcker put it correctly after he accepted the chairmanship of the commission when he said that government, especially the federal government, is not a favored career choice among our best and brightest. We face a sharp build-up in retirement of those who entered the federal government a generation or more ago, and too many of the good and talented that are still attracted to career service leave too soon, frustrated by their inability to use their talents with full effectiveness. This is very likely a problem across the federal government, as Paul Light has mentioned. But for DOD, which manages roughly a third of the federal civilian workforce, it is more than a matter of good government, it's truly a matter of national security. DOD's mission, of course, is to defend the country from those who might wish to do harm to us or our way of life. And our ability to attract and retain talented people and manage them in a way that utilizes their talents, their creativity and their innovative spirit certainly will determine how well we are able to do that defense. So the stakes are high.

The events of September 11th brought a new urgency, in my mind, to the task of civil service reform. Last year the president and the Congress worked together to create a new Department of Homeland Security with some updated personnel management practices. The task of fighting the global war on terror certainly forces us to recognize that the time has come to bring those same kinds of innovative practices to the work of the Department of Defense.

The decades-old of hiring, firing, evaluating, promoting, paying and retiring DOD civilian employees is in urgent need of repair. Let me offer a few examples.

Today the Department of Defense has some 320,000 civilian tasks that are being performed by uniformed military people. These are jobs that really should be done by civilians. That's more than two and a half times the number of U.S. troops that were on the ground in Iraq when Baghdad fell. Why is that? Well, it's because managers are rational. The managers in the Department of Defense, when they want to get a job done, they turn to the military, because they know they can manage the military personnel. They can put them in a job, give them guidance, calibrate them, transfer them from one task to another, and guide how they perform. Or they can turn to civilian contractors, because they know there, again, that they can manage a contractor. They can hire them, they can get them working at a task quickly without a host of bureaucratic obstacles and delays. Today they can't do that with the Civil Service, because the civilian personnel are really managed outside the Defense Department with a system of rules and requirements that were fashioned for a different era.

This really does put an unnecessary strain on the uniformed military personnel. To have 320,000 military personnel doing jobs that are not military task is not a good thing for the department. It's not right, especially at a time when we have to call up the National Guard, when we have to call up reserves, when we're telling people on active duty who are due to get out and have plans that we have to put in--effect a stop loss and not allow them to get out. …

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