Last week, we highlighted the challenges many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are facing as they return home. Chief among those challenges: finding jobs. At 12.1 percent in 2011, unemployment for these veterans is significantly higher than for the overall population, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Warriors who plan to remain in the military may face a different challenge—layoffs. Army Assistant Secretary Thomas Lamont, testifying last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee, reported that the U.S. Army would likely need to lay off some 25,000-30,000 enlisted personnel and officers to meet budget reduction targets.
Concerned Veterans for America shares the broad concern over the nation’s mounting debt and deficit spending, because we know that in the long run, debt and spending will only harm our ability to defend our nation. We know that serious spending restraint throughout government is needed.
However, it’s alarming that the department’s budget cutters are focused on cutting troop strength while ignoring sensible spending reforms to tackle waste, fraud and abuse.
A story in today’s Washington Times sheds more light on this issue. Pentagon correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports that while ground troop forces brace for proposed cuts, the department’s civilian workforce has gone untouched:
President Bush’s last budget, for fiscal 2009, pegged Defense Department civilians at 739,000, according to the department’s latest “Green Book” budget document on total spending.
This year, the number of civilians sits at 801,000, an increase of 62,000 personnel, or 8 percent; it is expected to decline by 1 percent next year.
Some defense analysts say this was not supposed to happen.
In the summer of 2010, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced a series of cost-saving initiatives that included keeping civilian employees to that year’s number of 778,000. The services started issuing press releases on the number of civilian jobs they had erased.
Two years later, civilian employment has risen by 23,000 personnel.
In 2010, the story notes, a Pentagon task force recommended a 15 percent cut in civilian defense employees. But that never happened, according to task force leader Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps reserve major general:
“While the fighting force is coming down, the overhead continues to grow,” he said. “It was an adverse ratio to start with, and it’s getting worse. You want to put your money in the tip of the spear, not in the rear with the gear.”
The rapid growth of civilian personnel continues even while the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, which is a puzzling trend. One Defense Dept. insider tells the Times the problem stems from the difficulty in firing federal employees; you have to wait for them to leave and then not replace them.
Regardless, Pentagon budget-cutters should revisit their plans to cut troop strength and look toward bringing the rapid growth of civilian employees to heel.