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American Federation of Government Employees National Convention
Remarks as Delivered by Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon, Coronado Springs Resort, Buena Vista, Florida, Monday, August 21, 2000

Thank you for the introduction. I appreciate the chance to be here today to meet with and speak with so many of you. This is the first time, I believe, that the Deputy Secretary of Defense has spoken at an AFGE Convention. I hope it reflects our commitment to work together today and for the future. So Bobby [Harnage, AFGE President], if I'm the first Deputy Secretary of Defense to speak here, I certainly hope that I'm not the last. [Applause.]

I would also like to say that it is by tradition that the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense serve in a non-partisan manner. So my words today will be consistent with that. At the same time, I am proud to have been part of President Clinton and Vice President Gore's Administration and to have served with Secretary of Defense Cohen. [Applause.] We have a record of accomplishment and a record of working together.

I would also like to thank the men and women of the AFGE Defense Conference Steering Group that I had a chance to meet with earlier in the day. Let me introduce them as a group, and let me ask them then to stand as a group: Mark Gibson, the Chairman from Camp McCoy, Wisconsin; Rocky Morrill from the U.S. Navy, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania; Brent Reynolds, from Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Delaware; Dale Schafer, Quantico Marine Corps Base; Mike Locklin from Fort Knox, Kentucky, United States Army; Lynn TyRee from the Defense Logistics Agency in Virginia; and Charlotte Flowers from Anniston Army Depot, Anniston, Alabama [applause] where they're going to keep the M-1 Tank vital and strong for the United States Army well into the 21st Century. [Applause.]

As I said, I'd like to thank President Harnage and the AFGE leadership for inviting me to speak today on behalf of the Department of Defense before thousands of men and women -- our partners who are so critical to the readiness of the greatest military in the world, the Armed Forces of the United States. AFGE represents over a third of our civilian workforce, and DoD in turn represents almost half of your membership. So I would ask all of the DoD members here to stand up for just one second. [Applause.]

I want to thank you. The civilian employees of the Department of Defense have great influence over the entire nation. The safety and security of our country depends on the quality and dedication of the people who work for the Department of Defense.

We have a large chunk of the Berlin Wall on display at the Pentagon. It stands not just as a monument to the desires of millions of people throughout the world to live free, but also to the dedication and hard work of the millions of Americans who helped secure that freedom.

But the end of the Cold War also started a decade of change. Some call it the post-Cold War era, and that's fine for historians and policy wonks. But for the men and women who are critical to the day-in and day-out operations of our force, the decade of the '90s was a time of change. As our force structure came down and the budget became balanced, a simple fact remained -- even though we may no longer need the same size force and infrastructure, we still need to protect or national security with the same kind of dedication and hard work that helped us prevail throughout the Cold War.

Today, the 40-year balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union is over and it's been replaced by a host of regional rivalries. Our world can be just as dangerous and, I would argue, just as complex.

Today America's smaller armed forces are asked to respond to an array of threats and crises around the globe: festering ethnic violence as we had in Kosovo and Bosnia that endangers the stability of vital regions like Europe; freelance terrorists who seek American targets the world over, such as our embassies in Africa; frightening weapons spreading to nations marked by fanaticism or instability such as North Korea or Iran; and the growing list of nations and groups that seek or have access to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons from Iraq to Pakistan.

To meet these threats we are transforming our military forces in what has been called a Revolution in Military Affairs. We began the '90s with a force designed to contend with a single fixed aggressor, and we're now in the midst of molding our military to this ever-changing landscape of threats; not only adapting to the new environment, but making it flexible enough to keep pace with future change. The Navy [is doing this] through its Fleet Battle Experiments. The Air Force is focused on the Air Expeditionary Force, and is integrating our air and space operations. The Marines are continuing to revolutionize their capabilities by honing their skills in urban warfare. And the Army is embarked on a path of reform that's going to profoundly enhance the speed, mobility and lethality of our soldiers. President Harnage has seen those innovations first hand at Fort Knox, Kentucky, along with the training that is going on there.

A military revolution of this magnitude does not come easy. That's one of the reasons that President Clinton and Secretary Cohen, in cooperation with Congress, have now started to increase defense spending, inaugurating the first, long term, sustained increase in military pay in some 15 years. That includes increases in the O&M [Operations & Maintenance] spending that you're so familiar with, which is so critical to the readiness of our force, its training, and the operations of our depots. These increases in military spending allow us to make greater investments in our men and women and their equipment.

But this military revolution also requires a strong foundation: a high quality and highly motivated team of career civilians. [Applause.] So often the eyes of the world focus on the accomplishments of our military personnel, such as the soldiers and Marines who are fighting wildfires raging in our heartland or the pilots and airmen who last year waged an air campaign in the heart of Europe, the most successful air campaign in the history.

But behind the scenes, those warriors rely on the support of a highly skilled and talented civilian workforce. If you want to see leading edge thinking on how to repair complex, state-of-the-art jet engines, just go to Tinker Air Force Base. If you want to look at leading edge work in electronics or hydraulics, go to Warner Robbins or [Ogden Air Force Base].

On the ground in the Balkans, civilians from our commissaries were there side-by-side with our military personnel. Other capable civilian technicians were there making sure the equipment was working and ready for the critical missions. Some were even crossing dangerous international boundaries and war-torn roads to deliver the mail to our very grateful forward-deployed soldiers in Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo.

This is the force behind the force -- the men and women who help design, build and maintain the systems, who draw up our programs and policies, who represent the continuity and institutional knowledge that keeps our Armed Forces running and who make our military the finest fighting force the world has ever seen. It is a great testament to the professionalism of this workforce that they – so many of you -- continued to deliver such a high quality service with great dedication throughout the challenging decade of the '90s.

Now we look forward. How do we work together, having faced this unusually challenging environment in the past ten years? Well, there's a solution, and your leadership has been at the heart of it. The answer is through partnership -- acknowledging our mutual interests and objectives and working together as a united team with a common purpose and vision.

Those of us who came to the Pentagon with the Clinton Administration realized that the changes ahead were on such a large scale that we simply could not afford to hand down directives from above. To reshape our organization we were going to need the assistance of the people who had devoted their careers to national security.

So we decided to create the partnerships that would allow us to make a successful transition to a modern military force able to meet new challenges. We have found that these partnerships work best when we see high level commitment from both management and unions, open communication that results from commitment to the effort, and programs that we develop and fine-tune together.

President Clinton's 1993 Executive Order on partnership gave us our initial top level guidance stating that "only by changing the nature of federal labor-management relations so that the managers, employees, and employees' elected union representatives serve as partners, will it be possible to design and implement the comprehensive changes necessary to reform government." That Executive Order also established the National Partnership Council that both Bobby Harnage and I serve on today to oversee the Federal effort to strengthen our partnership.

At DoD we implemented the President's directive by establishing our own Defense Partnership Council to examine how to improve labor relations across our organization. The Council, which consists of high level military and civilian leadership, AFGE and other union representatives, is guided by a charter that highlights our mutual commitment to the Department's national security mission and our shared overriding interest in delivering the highest quality products and services to the American public. The principles spelled out in that charter, including the sharing of information and the building of trust, have helped launch the 550 partnerships across the department involving a quarter of a million employees.

The Defense Partnership Council has also helped foster better communication between labor and management in a variety of ways, including work on a common framework on legislative issues and to offer training in mediation skills and partnership programs to thousands of DoD employees.

Perhaps, though, it is the informal relationships that have developed from the more formal framework of the Defense Partnership Council that have served us especially well. The regular meetings and discussions between our top officials for civilian personnel and installations and your top leadership mean that advance consultation is a built-in feature of our decisions and policies.

When issues surface, rather than making the disagreements a major obstacle, we have found that AFGE leadership and President Harnage, through our Defense Partnership Council, through [Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy] Diane Disney and others, we have come together. And as many times as I have met with President Harnage and members of his staff in the Pentagon, I have equally met with President Harnage and his staff at his headquarters, because it's a 50/50 proposition. [Applause.] We work together, we communicate, we talk together. And in the very first meeting I didn't ask Bobby Harnage to come to the Pentagon, I visited the AFGE Headquarters. [Applause.]

When we agree, we call them "communications," but then when we have differences they're sort of "discussions." [Laughter.] When we stray from the path, Bobby has pointed it out in a very nice and firm way, always diplomatic, and always clear. But I've found these conversations to be very important, and I find them very helpful in my position as a member of the National Partnership Council and also as the Deputy Secretary of Defense. Bobby's door has always been open to me, and in return, Bobby, I hope you'll agree that I've always made my door open to you. [Applause.]

We have made great progress in partnering, but we still have hard work to do together because there are places where partnership is in the early stages of development. We also need to consider additional means to strengthen our partnership efforts, including thinking together about how labor-management relations can and should play a role in improving our organizational performance and meeting our program goals. [We also have to] think together about how to do this in a more systematic way than we have to date, using partnerships as the mechanism for cooperation not only at the DoD-wide level and at the installation level, but also at the intermediate level of the military services and the major commands.

We also need to do a better job of thinking together about our legislative agendas and how we can best represent a full menu of our shared interests before Congress. It is as important as ever that we strengthen our partnerships given that we face a number of challenges as we seek to build 21st Century policies capable of supporting a 21st Century military. The truth is, we're not yet finished with our transition to a new post Cold War security environment, and indeed this is the one challenge we face today.

But I've seen first-hand how effective these partnerships can be in facing those challenges. Last spring Bobby Harnage and members of your team asked me to join them on a trip to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indiana. One of their local leaders, Bill Mason [President, AFGE Local], is here. Bill would you stand for just a second. [Applause.]

Crane is already on the cutting edge of the 21st Century military with the technology it produces, such as acoustic sensors and night vision electronics, and with the way it goes about producing these sophisticated products.

The labor-management partnership on the base is overseen by an executive committee made up of the base commander, the executive director, and the president of the AFGE local. Together they direct a full range of cooperative efforts, including an alternative dispute resolution process in which a team of union and management representatives is the first step in any grievance process and in a bargaining strategy that relies on the search for common interests, rather than the defense of separate issues. In fact there's not a problem that the Navy captain has on his installation for which he doesn't seek the advice of Bill Mason, and vice versa. I think Crane, there in the heartland, is a model for our future, not just in terms of management-labor relations, but in terms of how to run a DoD installation. That is a model for all of us for the future. [Applause.]

To Bill Mason and his colleagues, and to his Navy leadership, and to President Bobby Harnage, who brought this to our attention on the day we traveled together, thank you, not just for simply showing us how the partnership is working, but also inviting us to sit down with a very skilled professional workforce.

The Kosovo campaign was still a few months ahead of us then, but it was clear that there was a prospect that our pilots and aviators might indeed have to fly combat missions. There was a man there at Crane whose expertise was on the EA-6B [aircraft]. He could take them apart, he could fix them, he could put them back together, and he could put that aircraft into the air without missing a beat. He knew it inside and out, and anyone who knows the history of the successful air campaign in Kosovo knows that the EA-6B was one of the critical pieces in the suppression of enemy air defenses. And at the heart of it there was a very skilled, professional government civilian workforce at the Navy installation in Crane, Indiana.

Having that partnership at Crane has helped create something called business and process reengineering, or what is broadly referred to as strategic sourcing. Together, the employees and managers at Crane are looking across their support functions and product lines for ways to streamline operations to save money, and I might also say, to maintain jobs. [It includes] everything from their financial management to public works to the way they conduct their research and develop and demonstrates these new technologies.

During our visit our hosts showed us how this cooperative effort has already saved Crane some $20 million since the program began in 1998, and at the same time how the base and all of its employees are staying current with the private sector in cutting-edge technology. Business process reengineering has allowed all of Crane's employees, from the scientists to the technicians, to play a key role in shaping and streamlining their own workforce. I might add that this partnership was able to eliminate 160 positions without any involuntary separations, and, in fact, a surprising number of those eliminations were in management. [Applause.]

Today Crane stands as a model of partnership. But what we need for the future is for Crane not to be the exception, but the norm. That's why we're planning more visits to look at how partnerships really work. That's why we have surveyed partnership sites across the country. In fact, this is a critical part of the study that Diane Disney in her role on the Defense Partnership Council has worked. I might also add, Diane, we salute you for your expertise on the DLAMP [Defense Leadership and Management Program], helping us to make sure that [our civilian leaders] have the opportunity to train and advance. [Applause.]

The spirit of partnership that has helped guide us through this past decade will continue to guide us through future challenges. And while there is always room for improvement, I believe that we can say today the Department of Defense, together with its employees and AFGE, is moving towards a lasting change in our management culture that will make partnerships work in the future. I believe such cooperation and partnerships are essential if we are to be able to meet the significant challenges that we face together in the 21st Century.

One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is the fact that I get to spend a fair amount of time out in the field with the military men and women of our force, active duty, the National Guard and Reserves, and our highly skilled professional civilian workforce. There are two things that I always remark on when I'm with our people in the field. First, [I note] the great skill and professionalism which they bring to the service of our country every day. As President Kennedy said 40 years ago, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." That is what the men and women of our military do today -- active duty, Guard, Reserves, and civilians. They serve our country with pride and with great professionalism.

But the second piece that makes our men and women so outstanding, which makes our military and our Department the envy of military organizations around the world, is how each of us intrinsically knows that we depend upon each other. When I look out and see in this audience the men and women who work in the Department of Defense, I see the readiness of our force. Our future and our strength depends on your ability to keep our force the best trained, best organized, and best led military in the world. [Applause.] So every day you support us at depots, at finance centers, in thousands of occupations, you are critical to the readiness of our force.

To President Harnage, I want to thank you for the chance to speak here today to the men and women who are critical -- the men and women who serve every day with distinction and with professionalism. I am proud to be the Deputy Secretary of Defense, but specifically, I am proud to be your Deputy Secretary of Defense. Thank you very much. [Applause.]