By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The Army has launched a new effort to improve the training of its enormous civilian workforce, seeking to repair a long-neglected system for those employees who don't wear uniforms to work.
The Army Civilian University, established last year with a mission to integrate the Army's civilian training, took its first major step last week by assuming oversight of Army Management Staff College, the service's top school for civilian leadership and management education at Fort Belvoir, in Northern Virginia.
The demands on the Army from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have meant that many officers and soldiers assigned in the past to office work have been pressed into service overseas. The civilian workforce has had to pick up the slack.
"We've put an awful lot more on the shoulders of our civilian workforce, and we need to give these folks the tools to continue to develop and to stick with the Army," Jim Warner, president of ACU, said in an interview yesterday.
While shortcomings in the Army's civilian training have been documented by various studies over the years, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren began pushing for changes after taking office in 2007.
"When the global war on terror began, we didn't anticipate the number of jobs, types of jobs, we would ask our civilians [to] take on -- roles traditionally performed by soldiers," Geren said at a symposium of Army civilian leaders last week at Fort Belvoir.
Focused on training soldiers, the Army often has not given its civilian workforce adequate educational and training opportunities to keep up with the increased demands.
"It became apparent that our work in developing civilian leaders had not progressed at the same pace -- and did not keep up with the new operational requirements," Geren added.
In recent years, civilians have filled positions in human resources, logistics, property management, infrastructure, transportation and depot maintenance that were previously handled by soldiers and officers.
With nearly 300,000 civilian employees, the Army is the largest employer in the federal workforce. "Civilian training has been neglected for a long time in the Army," said Jill Mueller, a spokeswoman for the ACU.
Among the goals of the organization is to ensure that training is more accessible across the workforce and that the training meets the Army's missions.
The ACU serves as an umbrella organization that coordinates and unifies select schools. The organization, which has its headquarters at Fort Belvoir, is tiny, and so far has seven of 21 positions filled.
Yet Geren predicted that "the institution's impact over the long term will be significant for the Army."
Eventually, the ACU is to serve as a governing headquarters for Army schools where a majority of the students are civilians, according to officials. "Front and center, Army Civilian University's mission is about enhancing our Army's ability to accomplish its diverse and demanding missions during this era of persistent conflict," said Warner, a retired Army brigadier general.