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Civilian Personnel System 'Not Cutting It,' Rumsfeld Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2003 – The civilian personnel system in the Defense Department "is not cutting it," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today.

Rumsfeld, who spoke at the National Press Club, said that the department is handcuffed by its reliance on an antiquated personnel system. He called today's civilian personnel system "an industrial age organization struggling to perform in an information age world."

DoD has proposed changes to the civilian personnel system designed to make it more flexible and responsive, Rumsfeld said. It cannot happen too quickly. "The system for recruiting, retaining, managing the federal workforce on the civilian side is clearly not working well," he said.

President Bush has proposed the creation of a new national security personnel system that would be merit-based. It would give the department more flexibility and agility as to how it manages the roughly 700,000 civilians in DoD.

More than one-third of the federal workforce is in the Defense Department. Rumsfeld said that managers cannot use this personnel resource effectively, given the current rules. The secretary pointed to the flexibility Congress gave managers in the new Department of Homeland Security as an example.

In addition to the Homeland Security example, Rumsfeld would like to capitalize on the more than two decades worth of pilot projects the department has sponsored to increase workplace flexibility and reward top-notch employees. "The task of fighting the global war on terrorism certainly forces us to recognize that the time has come to bring those same kind of innovative practices to the work of the Department of Defense," he said.

Part of the reform package would allow DoD to turn over about 320,000 jobs now being performed by military personnel to civil service or contractor employees. "This is 2.5 times the number of troops in Iraq when Baghdad fell," he said.

Managers use military personnel in these jobs because it is easier than navigating the shoals of the civil service bureaucracy. He said these 320,000 military personnel in civilian jobs is an unnecessary strain on uniformed personnel. He said it is not right, especially when DoD is calling up the reserve components and invoking the stop-loss program.

He said it is also demoralizing for civilian employees. DoD civilian employees want their skills to be used in a crisis. But this doesn't happen because of the outdated rules that make it difficult to shift personnel, Rumsfeld said.

"For example in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 83 percent of civilians in theater were contractors," he said. "Only 17 percent were civilian federal workers. The complex web of rules and regulations prevents us from moving DoD civilians to new tasks quickly. So managers turn to military or contractors instead of civil service civilians."

DoD also has a problem in hiring new workers. He said private firms can size up a prospect at a job fair and offer them the job immediately. "When DoD interviews the same people, all we can do is offer them a ream of paperwork and promise to get back to them in three to five months," he said. "It should not be surprising that the most talented folks end up working someplace other than the DoD."

The bureaucracy manifests itself in strange ways. DoD must deal with more than a thousand local unions. The secretary said one example of the inefficiency of this is with abuse of government credit cards.

"With military personnel we can garnish their wages and recover the stolen funds," he said. "Not so with civilian personnel. In fact, DoD has been negotiating now for more than two years with more than 1,300 separate union locals for the right to garnish wages of those who use government credit cards for personal purchases and we still have 30 more unions to go."

Rumsfeld's proposed changes would allow the department to negotiate with national offices instead of locals.

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