The right worker mix


This December 26, 2011 file photo shows the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. (Staff/AFP/Getty Images)
Walter Pincus
Reporter June 3, 2013

The Defense Department, facing a future of sharply reduced budgets, isn’t fast enough off the dime when it comes to getting the right mix of civilians and contractors, the Government Accountability Office said.

“DOD has increasingly relied on contractors both overseas and in the United States to perform many of the same functions as civilian employees,” the GAO said in a report sent Wednesday to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees.

In fiscal 2011, it had an estimated 710,000 contractor FTEs, or full-time-equivalent employees. It also employed about 807,000 in its civilian workforce. And there were 1.4 million in active service and an additional 850,000 in the reserves.

Spending for contracted services peaked in fiscal 2010 at about $195 billion, the GAO reported, more than double what was spent on contractors in fiscal 2001. In fiscal 2012, it dropped to about $174 billion.

Contractors “worked on management support, communication services, interpreters who accompany military patrols, base operations support (e.g., food and housing), weapon systems maintenance, and intelligence,” the GAO said.

Since 2004, according to Defense Department officials, about 50,000 military slots were converted to civilians or contractors. In some cases, they were not military-essential jobs; in others, the jobs did support military operations but needed to be filled fast with qualified civilians or contractors. Offering on-the-job training for military personnel would have caused delays.

The GAO found the Navy and Air Force cut their active military numbers when jobs were taken by civilians or contractors; the Army and Marine Corps turned such jobs over to civilians but “retained these military billets to be used in the operating force.”

Because of the war, the active services increased by about 40,000, or 3 percent, from 2001 to 2011; but civilian DOD employees grew by 130,000, or 17 percent.

Here’s the irritating factor in calculating contractors: The military services and other Defense Department components use “various methods and data sources” for their contractor number estimates, and the GAO found those estimates “do not accurately reflect the number of contractors providing services to DOD.”

Before 2008, Defense had no requirement to keep records on contractor numbers so, the GAO found, historical data were not available.

That’s where slow-walking the solution comes in. Since 2006, Congress has used legislation to press the Pentagon to develop a “strategic workforce plan.” Legislators have told the Pentagon to include information about contracted services.

As the GAO puts it: “Two key aspects of DOD implementation of total management are an appropriate mix of its military, civilian, and contractor work­forces and determining the functions that are critical for the department to achieve its missions.” That means including contracted services information in their budget submissions.

Through 2017, the GAO said, the active ­forces will decline by some 7 percent, while the civilian level will shrink by 2 percent. That’s in part because some contractor jobs, such as in acquisitions and cybersecurity, are being transferred to DOD civilian posts.

But where are those contractor estimates?

One field with significant civilian growth has been the Defense Health Program, which saw a 57 percent rise in personnel from 2001 to 2011. Active-service personnel in the health field declined by 3 percent.

Another GAO report, this one sent to the Armed Services committees last Tuesday, discussed DOD’s contracting of health-care professionals, which cost $1.14 billion in fiscal 2011.

Here is another example of the fiction of military “jointness” wasting taxpayer dollars.

The GAO points out that the Army and Navy each has a medical command headed by a surgeon general who manages medical treatment facilities and other activities through regional command structures.

The Air Force has a surgeon general who exercises no command authority over Air Force medical facilities, nor does the Air Force have a medical contracting command. Some 60 local base contracting ­offices acquire medical services, according to the GAO.

To cap all this bureaucracy, there is a separate medical organization, JTF CapMed, managing military medical facilities within the Washington National Capital Region, where in 2011 there were 11,253 full-time-equivalent contract health-care professionals, the GAO said.

Over the past nine years, internal Pentagon groups and the GAO have recommended steps to consolidate contracted health-care staffing for all the services throughout the United States.

In June 2011, a DOD task force proposed creating a Defense Health Agency that would leave the services managing their own facilities but consolidate acquisition of health services.

A March 2012 DOD memo recognized this could save money so a medical services contracting sub­working group was established. Its recommendations are due next month, the GAO said.

Are there savings to be found? The GAO noted that the Army said contracts it awarded in 2012 that covered health-care professionals at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda resulted in a 14 percent savings over previous separate Army and Navy contracts for the same facilities.

But the pace of change in the Pentagon’s management and oversight of the military health system are “incremental and limited,” the GAO said. That’s mainly because the services — more than 25 years after passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Reorganization Act — still don’t want to give up their separate prerogatives.

They should in an area such as health care.

After all, it’s not as if they’re being asked to give up a weapons system.

For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.

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