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