DoD ties another round of BRAC to sizable civilian personnel cuts

Wednesday - 2/26/2014, 4:06am EST

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The Defense Department will struggle to significantly reduce the civilian workforce without another round of base closures.

A majority of the DoD civilians work outside of the Pentagon at bases, depots and other places that may or may not be needed any longer as the military reorganizes and shrinks.

DoD officials say civilian and contractor workforce cuts at the headquarters level across all the services, agencies and combatant command already are under way. But it's not nearly enough.

Christine Fox, the acting deputy secretary of Defense, said Tuesday that all of these offices took a 20 percent reduction in staffing in 2014 to save about $5 billion.

While these cuts are important for both cost savings and symbolic reasons, Fox said these personnel account for only about 2 percent of DoD's total budget.

"Until we can consolidate our infrastructure, we'd love to do some efficiencies in depots. We've got a whole set of proposals, and all of them will require a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)," Fox said during a speech at the McAleese/Credit Suisse 2015 Defense Programs Conference in Washington. "Until we get to a BRAC, our ability to significantly do more on our civilian workforce, and so much of it is not at headquarters as people think. It's actually people doing real things. We will be constrained in how much we can bring down our civilian workforce."

Fox said DoD would like to close about 25 percent of facilities based on their active and reserve projections over the next few years.

Robert Hale, the comptroller of the DoD, at least for a few more weeks, said with or without a BRAC, the civilian workforce will shrink.

"I think we will see continued downward trends with our civilians. It would be larger if we had BRAC authority and could close bases, because as I said, that's where a lot of our civilians work. We are looking at reorganizations like management headquarters and others as well," Hale said. "Frankly, some of our workload is coming down, especially in the out years as wars end. And as we get beyond the reset issues, our depots will need fewer people, and organizations like the Army and others will see a decline in their needs. You will see a decline in civilians. It would be bigger if we were allowed to get rid of some infrastructure that we don't need."

Different than last time

Hale added he fears if DoD can't get rid of the workers they need to, the Pentagon will be forced to keep them and cut employees in those areas where they are needed the most.

He added DoD's civilian workforce is about 750,000 employees, and the Pentagon expects it to come down by a few percentage points each of the next few years on its own without any help from BRAC or buyouts or reductions in force efforts.

DoD hasn't had much luck convincing Congress that another round of BRAC is possible. As part of the Defense Authorization bill, Congress not only would not let DoD close more bases, it added a provision barring the Pentagon from even planning for another round.

But in the fiscal 2015 request going to Congress March 4, President Barack Obama is trying again. Defense officials hope a different approach to BRAC may change lawmakers' minds.

Fox said this round of BRAC would be much different than the 2005 round in one major way.

"BRAC typically is an efficiency initiative. We have about 25 percent greater number of bases than we need for the size of the force we are moving toward. So what we'd like to do is consolidate our infrastructure to support the needs of the forces we have," she said. "2005 did two things. It was an efficiency BRAC, but it was also a restructuring BRAC. There was a lot of restructuring and additional force. So the combination of those two things under one BRAC process put it as a separate kind of BRAC than any of the others that we experienced. It made it more expensive to get going, and the department's ability at the time to estimate the cost of the BRAC, there were a lot of cost overruns on it."

She said the model DoD is proposing is a straight efficiency effort. And, the 2005 effort is saving DoD about $4 billion a year today, Fox said.

The Government Accountability Office in July 2012 found DoD's cost overruns because of BRAC were about 67 percent.