April 24, 2017

By Scott Maucione

As the Trump Administration continues its push to trim the size of the federal workforce, both liberal and conservative groups are calling on the White House to use some restraint in how it pares down the Defense Department’s civilian employees.

In an April 20 letter, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), along with 14 other organizations including Freedom Works and the Coalition to Reduce Spending, asked President Donald Trump to avoid any “hasty decisions” while reorganizing the civilian side of DoD.

The Office of Management and Budget “is doing a review across the federal government looking at the workforce and we want to make sure part of that discussion is looking at where there could be cost savings when you make accurate comparisons between civilians and contractors and also wanting to make sure the Department of Defense is held to the same standards that every other federal agency is for being accountable and responsible for taxpayer dollars,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the CDI Strauss Military Reform Project at POGO.

The Trump administration instituted an across the board hiring freeze just days after Trump took office. That freeze caused major problems for DoD and the military services. Child development centers were forced to close and active duty services members took on responsibilities of vacant civilian posts.

“When it came to the hiring freeze we really thought that was too blunt of an instrument and that in a number of instances federal agencies just couldn’t rearrange staffing the way they needed to, to make sure they were performing key services for citizens,” Smithberger said.

Since then, the hiring freeze has been lifted and instead a policy was put in place to make the federal workforce “dramatically more accountable, more efficient and more effective” over the next two years, as it was characterized by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney.

The letter urges the White House to use more of a scalpel than a meat ax when cutting away civilian positions in DoD.

Smithberger said she’s particularly worried about a repeat of the Clinton administration’s policy to outsource large portions of the civilian workforce to contractors.

“We spent years after both Clinton and Bush rebuilding the federal workforce and we really would not like to repeat those mistakes all over again,” Smithberger said. “In a number of instances contractors can cost three times as much as a federal employee performing the same position … now I think we are seeing when we outsource some of these functions we are losing institutional capacity to properly manage federal programs.”

The letter still encourages Trump and DoD to cut away waste within the Pentagon. The correspondence points out numerous reports where DoD could save in contractor staffing, civilian cuts and workforce restructuring.

How the Trump administration plans to cut out some of DoD’s workforce is still unknown.

“There have been a lot of OMB directors that have put out memorandums very similar to the one that came out … and it deserves serious thought and serious review. [The Trump Administration is] very serious about government reform and they should be,” Arnold Purnaro, CEO of the Purnaro Group and member of the Defense Business Board, told Federal News Radio.

DoD and Congress already have policies on the books to slim the civilian workforce. DoD directed a 25 percent cut across the board to its headquarters functions. Congress mandated further cuts to headquarters, the senior executive services and the National Security Council in the 2017 defense authorization bill.

Previous NDAAs also required cuts in DoD’s civilian force and earlier this year DoD released a policy that prioritizes employee performance over tenure.