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Rumsfeld Makes Case for Transforming Civilian Workforce

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2003 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cleared up some misconceptions about the proposed DoD civilian personnel system during testimony before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee today.

Rumsfeld said that the current system is not flexible and agile enough to confront the dangers of the 21st century. Basically, he is asking Congress to approve a new way of hiring, rewarding, assigning and firing federal workers to meet these challenges.

DoD has more than 730,000 civilian workers. They are an important part of the department. Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clarke emphasized that to transform the department, it must be allowed to transform the civilian workforce.

Rumsfeld spoke about what the new system will and will not do. "It will not remove whistle-blowing protections," he told the senators. "Those who report mismanagement, fraud (and) other abuses will have the same protections that they have today."

The system will not eliminate or alter employee protections available through the equal employment opportunity complaint process, nor will it in any way affect the rights of DoD employees under civil rights laws.

"Notwithstanding the allegations to the contrary, these proposals will not remove prohibitions on nepotism or political favoritism, as has been charged," he said. "Those things will properly continue to be prohibited."

The proposed changes will not eliminate veterans' preference, nor will they end collective bargaining. "What it would do is bring collective bargaining to the national level, so that the department could negotiate with national unions, instead of dealing with more than 1,300 different union locals, a process that is inefficient," he said.

The proposed changes will not give the department a blank check to change the civil service system unilaterally. "Like the system Congress approved for the Department of Homeland Security, before any changes are made to the civil service system, the employees' unions must be consulted, the Office of Personnel Management is involved in design, and any disagreements would have to be reported to Congress," Rumsfeld said.

The new system would give the president a waiver that would allow him to give the department the flexibility to respond in the event national security requires DoD to respond and act quickly.

The national security personnel system will not result in the loss of job opportunities for civil service employees, the secretary said. "It's the current system that limits opportunities for DoD civilians," he said. Presently, some 320,000 jobs that should be filled by civilian personnel done by military members. The secretary said this is because it is easier to manage service members and contractors than civil servants.

"By creating perverse incentives for managers to give civilian tasks to the military personnel and to give civilian tasks to contractors, we believe that the transforming initiatives we are proposing would most likely generate more opportunities for DoD civilians, not less," he said.

The new system is the result of careful work. "These (proposals) are based on personnel management systems that Congress approved last year for Homeland Security and many years of experience with a number of successful congressionally authorized programs," Rumsfeld said. One pilot program the Navy's China Lake experiment that tested pay banding has been in operation for about 20 years.

"The pilot programs, which now involve over 30,000 DoD employees, tested many of those reforms, including pay banding systems, simplified job classifications, pay for performance, recruiting and staffing reforms, scholastic achievement appointments and enhanced training and development opportunities," he said. "In each of those demonstration programs, when measured, employee satisfaction has been high, and the employers are retaining more of their top performers.

"Our objective is to take those successful, congressionally approved pilot programs and expand them throughout DoD, so that more civil service employees can benefit from the increased opportunities that they've created, and so that their greater effectiveness can be applied across the department," the secretary noted.

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