Senate debates 'arbitrary' cuts to DoD civilian workforce

Wednesday - 11/28/2012, 6:38pm EST

The U.S. Senate is expected to begin debate soon on whether or not to require the Defense Department to reduce its civilian workforce by 5 percent over the next five years.

The question comes as the Senate considers final passage of its version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that guides military policy each fiscal year. The version of the bill the Senate Armed Services Committee passed in May purports to save $5 billion over the Pentagon's five-year budgeting period by mandating reductions in civilians and contractors.

But on Wednesday, eight senators led by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a floor amendment to strike that provision. In a statement, Cardin said the cuts were arbitrary and would result in the loss of around 36,000 DoD civilian jobs plus tens of thousands more contract positions.

"A slash and burn approach to downsizing the civilian and contractor workforce is contrary to current law and runs the risk of undermining our military mission and national security," he said. "DoD has already announced plans to downsize its civilian and contractor workforce, but it is being done in accordance with law and with consideration to mission and workload. Automatic cuts to the civilian and contactor workforce is unlawful and could leave our nation vulnerable."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the Armed Services committee, defended the provision following the panel's passage of the 2013 NDAA several months ago, saying that if the Pentagon wants to reduce the size of the uniformed military, the civilian workforce should shrink as well.

"We're scheduled to reduce the Army by some 100,000 men and women. We're reducing the size of the Marine Corps by some 80,000. But [DoD] made no provision for any reduction in the civilian workforce, which has grown some 16 percent since 2007," McCain said during a May news conference.

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