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Civilian Cuts Challenge Work Force Quality

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 23, 1996 – Deep cuts in the number of new hires each year are creating an older DoD civilian work force and could impact force quality down the road, officials said.

Before the civilian drawdown began in fiscal 1989, DoD hired more than 77,000 new employees each year. Today, that number has dropped dramatically to under 20,000. As a result, the work force is getting older. By the turn of the century, some 40 percent of the work force will be 45 to 55 years old said Diane Disney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy.

To meet drawdown requirements, DoD froze civilian hiring from January 1990 until April 1991. Except under special circumstances, no civilians newly entered the DoD work force. Following a thaw during which agencies could hire two new employees for every five positions eliminated, DoD ended the freeze in late November 1994. By then, however, the number of workers under age 30 had dropped from 150,000 to 50,000 and the number of workers 30 to 40 years old also had declined.

"The bulk of our departures have been people with fewer than 11 years' experience with DoD," Disney said. "Not bringing them in holds our numbers down, but what's going to happen 15 to 25 years from now when [today's] 30- to 40-year-olds are ready to retire? Will we have employees with the range of skills, talent and experience to move up? If we don't have mechanisms to bring new people in, we may create a knowledge gap."

The potential gap in employees qualified for managerial positions worries supervisors across the service components, Disney said. "We've been able to maintain work force diversity and good labor-management relations, and we've minimized reductions in force," she said. "But we need to take a look at where we're going to be if we don't make some changes."

Every three to six months, Disney's office compiles new personnel statistics. The services use the information to tailor work force reduction initiatives such as lump sum severances, she said.

"That's what we call a 'work force shaping effort' -- inducing people to step up to the plate and say, 'I'm ready, now. Give me my severance pay, and I'm gone.'" she said. "Every year, we try to provide a few more incentives for people who may elect to retire early or leave DoD to try something different."

Nudging older employees out of the work force opens positions to bring in new -- and younger -- hires, she said. Younger employees cost less, she added, and restock the dwindling pool of future managers.

National Performance Review recommendations that managers re-engineer and restructure organizations also affect hiring practices, Disney said.

"Managers view vacancies as opportunities to re-engineer positions -- move parts of the job to somebody else, and determine what it really is they want this person to do," she said. "They then tend to fill vacancies at a lower grade, which often translates to youth. That keeps the flow of young people coming in."

Disney said she doesn't see a further decline in annual new hires. "We still have to eliminate almost 100,000 positions by the end of 2001, but to a great extent that will be driven by base closures," she said. "We have no plans for instituting another hiring freeze."

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