Civilian Pentagon leaders believe that the military services should
be concerned about the Defense Department’s ability to manage
future weapon programs. The reason, officials said, is that, by
2005, more than 60,000 members of the Defense Department acquisition
workforce will be eligible to retire.
Replacing these workers will not be easy, these officials stressed,
because the acquisition bureaucracy, after a decade of downsizing,
is not equipped or trained to hire fresh talent. Recruiting and
retaining younger workers, additionally, will be hampered by the
lack of flexibility in government personnel policies, said a report
titled "The Acquisition Workforce 2005," published in
October by a special task force, funded by the offices of the defense
undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, and the
undersecretary for personnel and readiness.
The task force plans to introduce a series of personnel and administrative
reforms, some of which require legislative approval. These efforts
are designed to help lure young workers to the government and to
ensure the Pentagon has in-house skills in critical areas such as
information technology and various engineering disciplines. Implementing
the task force program is expected to cost $230 million between
2001 and 2007.
Between 1989 and 1999, the defense acquisition workforce was cut
by 50 percent. The Defense and Energy Departments accounted for
nine out of 10 jobs cut during that time. There are approximately
152,000 workers in defense acquisition jobs today, and about 124,000
are civilian. The remaining are military officers.
The director of the task force, Keith Charles, said that more "awareness"
is needed within the military services about a looming personnel
crisis in the acquisition workforce. The bottom line, he said, is
that "there are implications for new weapon systems."
The uniformed leaders should understand that the procurement of
new equipment would be affected by future shortages of acquisition
workers, Charles said during a briefing to defense industry representatives.
"They can’t assume that a contractor just backs up [a
truck] in front of the Pentagon and dumps off a new helicopter."
The nation’s demographics worsen the problem, he explained,
because the so-called baby-boom generation will begin to retire
in droves in 2007. That means the Defense Department will face greater
competition for workers from the rest of the federal government
and from the private sector. By 2007, said Charles, "we will
be retiring, as a nation, three times more people than at any other
time in history. There is no hope of recovery. We have to capture
people before 2007 hits."
One consequence of the 50 percent cutbacks of the 1990s, he said,
is that "we sacrificed our youth. We haven’t hired anyone
in 11 years. We don’t know how to do it. The population has
changed," and new skills are needed to keep up with rapidly
"We need for the senior uniformed leadership to share in the
sense of urgency. I don’t think they are very sensitive to
what this can do for them," said Charles. The shortage of workers
would not only affect the acquisition of new equipment but also
logistics support, he said. "The Persian Gulf War worked because
we had huge reserves of supplies from the Reagan [administration]
buildup. We couldn’t do that today."
By 2008, 75 percent of today’s civilians at the Defense Department
will be retired, said Charles. Even though the Pentagon spends $7.5
billion a year on its civilian workforce, he noted, it has not managed
to plan for its future.
The expected shortage of acquisition managers will come at a time
when the Pentagon anticipates growth in procurement accounts, so
there will be "more work and fewer people," Charles said.
Cutbacks in government staff also have increased the Pentagon’s
reliance on contractors. The upshot is that there are more contractors
that need government supervision. "We’ve gone through
13-14 years of outsourcing," he said.
Bernard Rostker, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness,
commented on this issue during a recent breakfast with reporters
in Washington, D.C.
"One thing that is very different today than 10 years ago
is our use of contractors. One of the things we do with contractors
is supervise them," said Rostker. As head of the Pentagon’s
Gulf War Illness office, he said, "I had a shop of about 200
people. About 20-25 were government and 175-180 were contractors
in various forms.
"I used the government people in supervisory roles. I was
not interested in a 22-year government employee, just out of college,
supervising contractors. I wanted mature, older people, brought
from the military or hired at GS-15 or Senior Executive Service
Rostker predicted that many of those government supervisors who
will be retiring can be replaced, in part, with military service
members and with new employees hired from the defense industry.
"We have to think about different career patterns feeding the
It is not likely, however, that the Pentagon will be in a situation
where there won’t be enough government workers to supervise
contractors. Before that happens, Rostker said, "we will hire
Encouraging the practice of phased retirements is a "top priority,"
said Rostker. That would allow full-time workers to shift to part-time
work without being financially penalized. "We have to explore
that. What a waste of talent if we say, ‘you are either working
or you are not working,’" he added. It would make sense
rather to use the talents of the experienced people to train younger
Charles agreed that "there is a minimum ‘core’
needed by the government to oversee programs. ... A minimum skill-set
is needed to protect the government interests." He cited a
February 2000 Defense Department inspector general report, which
attributed quality problems in many defense programs to management
The 50 percent shrinkage of the civilian acquisition workforce
was necessary after the end of the Cold War. But Charles believes
the downsizing should not continue. "The number should be about
what it is now: 152,000."
There will not be an obvious "degradation in programs in the
short term," he said. Acquisition projects probably won’t
be affected in any significant way for the next two to four years.
"But the lead time is such that we need to be working now,
so we have the people and the process in place to keep going."
Given the anticipated wave of retirements, however, that workforce
would go down to less than 100,000 by 2008, if no action were taken
today, said Carolyn Bean Willis, Air Force representative on the
Acquisition 2005 task force. Out of those 100,000 employees, nearly
half would have more than 21 years of service.
"If we didn’t do anything today, continued business
as usual, we would lose 50,000 people," Willis said in an interview.
Short Term Goals
In the near term, the task force plans to roll out a number of initiatives
by January 15, 2001, Willis explained. High on the list will be
a briefing to the new administration transition team, which, task
force officials hope, will pay heed to the acquisition workforce
problem. The task force also wants to update selected staff members
of the Armed Services and Government Affairs committees on Capitol
By the January deadline, Willis said the plan is to issue a "human
resource performance planning guide" that will be distributed
to the military services. The task force wants the services to use
that guide as a tool to figure "what people they need for what
jobs," she said. The goal is to "really get the senior
leadership involved early. ... We will ask for feedback by mid-summer,"
she added. But realistically, "it probably will take a lot
longer than that."
Other proposals by the task force include:
The task force does not expect any immediate results from this
work, said Willis. "I think we’ll see some results right
away, but it will be only in thinking, as the services begin to
frame their workforce issues." It will take at least two years
to see any significant change.