Army to rebalance workforce at expense of civilians, contractors

Friday - 11/2/2012, 5:26am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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The Army is relying too heavily on civilian employees and contractors.

The Army's Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said with the end of operations in Iraq and the winding down of the Afghanistan theater, the goal now is to reinvest in the institutional Army.

This means the Army wants uniformed men and women going back to doing the traditional jobs done by service members before the wars. Odierno said over the last decade, the Army used contractors and civilian employees in these positions so service members could be deployed in theater. He said that created an imbalance in the workforce and now that needs to be fixed.

"What we've had to do because we've had lots of contractors and civilians, we want to keep some of that capacity and unique capability, but I got to invest more uniform back in, senior non-commissioned officers and officers back into our training pipeline and back into our doctrine pipeline," Odierno said Thursday during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "It's important that we do this."

Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff

He said these NCOs and officers will drive the changes in the Army as it adjusts to new mission types and places.

Odierno said the Army is transforming to be more regionalized and work with the other Defense Department services and agencies as one organization.

"We have to have the right people," he said. "It also allows me to keep some people there if I have to expand the Army in the future, I have a basis of leadership that allows me to expand the Army more quickly."

Doctrine updated

In fact, the Army just released a new doctrine. This was the first time it has done an extensive update and roll out in recent memory, Odierno said. He added it represents lessons learned from Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters, and how it applies to the future.

To meet the new and more complex mission, the Army must have the right leaders who are well trained and can adapt easily.

But with budget pressures mounting, Odierno said the service will continue to realign its force structure to have 490,000 active soldiers, down from 570,000.

Over the last 12-18 months, the Army has reduced its active and reserve forces. Under the 2013 budget request, the White House issued in February, the active Army wants to decrease its numbers by about 80,000 soldiers.

Much of those cuts to the uniform personnel over the last year or so have been to the operational force because the institutional force already has seen reductions over the last 10 years, Odierno said.

He said the Training and Doctrine Command will lead the effort to balance the workforce among contractors, civilians and uniform personnel.

Choosing who stays and who goes

"By doing it this way, we are able to do a large majority by natural attrition. We will not have voluntary separation. We will choose who leaves the Army," Odierno said. "We have several vehicles that will do that. We've done very well in the first year of this. I'm very pleased with the results we've had in terms of sustaining the best."

For the first time, not every soldier who wanted to stay in the service could.

"We did it based on commander's input. The commanders made the decision on who would stay," Odierno said. "That's the kind of programs we will continue to have as we go forward. We will decide who leaves based on past performance and future potential."

An example of that process came in October when the Army offered early retirement for soldiers with at least 15 years in the service. The service will approve those who want to leave early.

Odierno said there are some soldiers not meeting the standards in the Army and they will be among the first ones to leave.

"As we get down the road here, probably about 20 percent or so will have to be reduced through boards and things based on quality," he said. "We will put boards together and do assessments of files and assessments of performance and future potential. We will then have to make some decisions along those lines."

The Army kicked off this effort earlier this year with non-commissioned offices. Odierno said the Army created a qualitative management board that asked some senior non-commissioned officers to retire.

The Army also looked at occupational specialties where they had too many employees, told some service members to either switch functions or leave the service.

"Those are the kind of things we will continue to do, but they will be qualitative based," Odierno said.

Downsizing the civilian workforce

Odierno says for civilian workers, the Army will rely on a similar approach to that of uniformed employees.

"What we are trying to do is get that in an organized way where we are making the right decisions," he said. "We are going to have a reduction in civilians, but we want it to be the right reduction that allows us to make sure we have reduced in the right way and we haven't left any holes in the force as we go through this over time."

Odierno said the Army hasn't decided how many or what percentage of the civilian workforce will be cut.

The other piece to this workforce issue is how will the Army develop those soldiers who stay in as future leaders?

Secretary John McHugh signed a memo in September requiring a total force approach to several things the service does, including ensuring standards for qualification and professional development will be the same for active and reserve personnel.

Odierno said the Army has to develop leaders who can adapt easily. He said no one can know what future missions will look like and the Army has to prepare its leaders, starting with privates and all the way up to the commissioned officers, to understand and operate in the complex environments.

"How we've done training over the last five or six years in my mind doesn't at all replicate how we will do training in the future," he said. "We were training for very specific missions. We were training for responsiveness for our mission in Iraq and our mission in Afghanistan. We now need to go back and start training using virtual, constructive and live capabilities in order to develop our Army to do additionally some combined arms maneuver and then some additional capabilities that allows them to be regionally capable."

The Army is unsure how much this new approach to training will cost. Odierno said there are some new efficiencies that they hope will lower the cost.

"We're conducting some pilots right now at Fort Hood, Texas, that will take a look at what this means," he said. "It's comparing readiness. It's not just about training being more efficient. It's about the result of the training. Is it just as effective?"

Odierno also wants to adjust the training centers to be more efficient and capable in developing the forces.

He said the Army has an opportunity to impact the future over the next four or five years to prepare the service, its soldiers and employees for decades down the road.

And the fact the Army has taken the brunt of the DoD's total budget reductions in 2013 — 58 percent compared to 7 percent for the Navy — will make shaping the force of the future that much more important, Odierno said.

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