Air Force gives and takes away thousands of civilian jobs

Thursday - 11/3/2011, 12:31pm EDT

By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

In response to ongoing Defense Department efficiency initiatives, Air Force officials announced Nov. 2 they would eliminate approximately 9,000 civilian positions. In almost the same breath, officials said they needed to add 5,900 new positions to meet the Air Force's top priorities.

The 9,000 jobs being eliminated are management, support and staff positions, while the 5,900 new positions are in key areas, such as nuclear enterprise, acquisition, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The move is in response to a Defense Department mandate to halt civilian growth above fiscal year 2010 levels. These actions are part of an ongoing Air Force effort to increase efficiency, while reducing overhead and redundancy.

'Making difficult choices'

"We can't be successful without our talented and experienced civilian workforce," said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, in a press release. "We are making difficult choices about how to deliberately restructure and posture the force and will continue to look for new ways of accomplishing the mission. We can't afford business as usual."

Responding to the May 2010 memo from the Secretary of Defense asking that civilian manpower costs be kept at fiscal year 2010 levels, the Air Force began to study its civilian workforce. The goal was to determine if the civilian workforce was properly placed in order to meet the service's mission priorities.

The review process uncovered several imbalances. While some overhead functions and management could be trimmed, other, high priority areas need to grow. This led the Air Force to adopt initiatives that realigned manpower resources to more critical missions.

"We clearly understand the turbulence these and future reductions will cause in the workforce," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz in the press release. "We are making every effort to use voluntary measures to achieve reductions whenever possible."

Although the Air Force began implementing hiring controls and voluntary separation programs in May 2011, with an eye on reducing overall manpower costs, these did not generate the results needed to meet the new fiscal constraints demanded by the DoD.

"The initiatives announced Nov. 2 represent the next step toward that goal, but there is more work to be done," said Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, manpower, organization and resources director, in the press release. "The Air Force remains over fiscal year 2010 manpower levels and will continue to develop enterprise-wide solutions to achieve our goals with minimal impact to mission. The Air Force must still define an additional 4,500 civilian positions for reduction."

Union denounces 'arbitrary' caps

However, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many federal workers, says the Defense Department's workforce caps are arbitrary and will likely mean the Air Force and other services cutting jobs will have to turn to costly contractors to fill positions that are cut.

"DoD has imposed this artificial cap without any approval from Congress. They're putting tens of thousands of hardworking federal employees on the street and shifting all of that work to more expensive contractors," said Don Hale, chairman of the AFGE unit that represents civilian DoD employees, in a release.

While the department has said it won't use the 2010 efficiency initiatives as a way to outsource jobs to contractors, the union said the workforce caps are an "underhanded" way of doing just that.

Part of the announced reductions includes streamlining overhead at the Air Force Materiel Command, the service's largest employer of civilians, according to Schwartz. Restructuring the AFMC would lead to the elimination of approximately 1,000 overhead positions, while centering its management functions around the AFMC's core missions.

Restructuring base staff

In a move away from its standard management-staff model of a center and headquarters staff at each AFMC base, the restructuring would result in a "lead" center being created for each of AFMC's five mission areas:

  • Life Cycle Management Center, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio
  • Sustainment Center, Tinker AFB, Okla.
  • Air Force Test Center, Edwards AFB, Calif.
  • Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio
  • Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center, Kirtland AFB, N.M.

The deadline for the AFMC restructure is Oct. 1, 2012.

These latest reductions come on the heals of the Air Force's announcement earlier this week that it would cut 436 captains and majors from its workforce. Air Force spokesperson Mike Dickerson told Federal News Radio that officials on the Calendar Year 2011 Reduction-in-Force Board considered more than 8,800 officers before deciding to make those cuts.

(Jack Moore contributed to this report)

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