Pentagon May Trade More Fatigues for Civvies ; in a Major Shift, Rumsfeld Wants to Give 320,000 Jobs to Civilians, Saving Money and People for Combat Roles

By Seth Stern writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Pentagon May Trade More Fatigues for Civvies ; in a Major Shift, Rumsfeld Wants to Give 320,000 Jobs to Civilians, Saving Money and People for Combat Roles


Seth Stern writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Today's military employs enough soldiers and sailors serving food to fill two entire Army divisions. It has so many graphic artists, pharmacy technicians, and stock clerks that they could staff an entire aircraft carrier themselves.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to shift 320,000 such support jobs to civilians, a move he argues would save money and free up 20 percent more military personnel for combat roles.

But critics say the biggest proposed shake-up of government employees in decades would undermine worker protections and not save nearly as much money as the Pentagon predicts.

Ever since taking office, Mr. Rumsfeld has criticized the Pentagon bureaucracy for the "tooth to tail" ratio of soldiers doing combat versus support roles. He blames the Pentagon's complex personnel rules that make it easier for military commanders to assign jobs to uniformed soldiers rather than to more efficient civilians.

"The Department of Defense is bogged down in the bureaucratic processes of the industrial age - not the information age," Rumsfeld told senators earlier this month.

The House has already approved Rumsfeld's proposed solution: a new national-security personnel system that would operate outside the civil-service rules that apply to all federal employees.

The legislation would tie raises to performance rather than longevity, give managers more flexibility to hire and fire quickly, and reduce collective bargaining by local unions - the same kind of exceptions granted to the new Department of Homeland Security.

The proposed changes - which are still being negotiated between the House and Senate - have drawn sharp criticism from union officials and Democratic congressional leaders. "The bill that passed the House gives the Department of Defense a blank check to scrap 100 years of civil- service protections," Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California said in a phone interview. Union leaders fear that shifting jobs to government civilians is just an intermediate step toward privatization.

Susan Collins (R) of Maine, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chair, has proposed compromise legislation that would preserve workers' existing appeals process and collective- bargaining rights.

Yet long before Rumsfeld's reform legislation reached Congress, the Pentagon began shifting more work to nonsoldiers. Civilians are more likely to fix military computers or guard the checkpoints outside Army posts. The Marine Corps recently freed up 500 personnel by signing a contract with a private company to provide food service in its mess halls.

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