Army Feeling Weight of Bureaucratic Bloat

By Sandra I. Erwin
The U.S. Army has big plans to make itself over for the post-Afghanistan era. It wants to shift forces from today’s war zones to other parts of the world, modernize equipment and invest in cutting-edge technology.
But Army leaders are finding that although visions of the future make for rousing stump speeches, the service will probably remain shackled to the present for a very long time.
While there are still 60,000 soldiers committed to Afghanistan deployments, a more significant impediment to change is that there is simply too many layers of excess fat in the organization, officials acknowledge. Army leaders say the extra weight is financially unsustainable, makes the Army less nimble and must be shed before the Army can move forward.
“We are a little heavy,” particularly in the civilian workforce, says Undersecretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal.
“We have to deal with the force structure that we created over the past decade to meet the demands of two wars,” Westphal says Oct. 10 during a Government Executive forum in Washington, D.C.
The Obama administration’s proposed budget for 2013-2017 already has recommended cutbacks in ground forces. The Army’s 570,000 active-duty force would be reduced by about 80,000 over the next five years. The Pentagon in 2010 already had ordered all branches of the military to begin slicing 10 percent a year from their sizable cadre of support contractors. But no specific targets have yet been identified in the Army’s 300,000-strong civilian workforce.
A team led by Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III and Westphal is now investigating how best to go about slimming down the federal civilian and contractor payroll. “It has to be done in a balanced way” to ensure the Army retains skilled workers, Westphal says.
“A technologically advanced, leaner force is our goal,” he asserts.
But Westphal does not expect the Army to unleash an avalanche of pink slips. Most of the reductions will be through attrition, and will take several years to materialize, he says. More deliberate cuts are likely to affect Army headquarters staff, which ballooned over the past 10 years. “I’m working with Gen. Austin on taking a hard look at headquarters,” says Westphal. There are too many jobs that are redundant and duplicate functions that are also performed at Army commands outside the beltway. Headquarter positions that mimic what Army field commands are doing are likely to be eliminated, he says.
“There is a large over-structure we built up over the last decade,” Westphal says. “We’ll try to use as much attrition as we can and other incentives” to avoid layoffs, he adds. The contractor workforce already has been reduced, but more cuts are coming, he says. “We’ll need less contractors.” The Army accounts for the largest share of the Defense Department’s nearly $200 billion annual spending on service contracts.
The Army’s ambitions to become leaner also might be countered by the service’s own mismanagement of resources during years of lavish spending. Case in point is the Army’s information networks that are used to manage financial transactions, payroll and most administrative functions. “We created too many legacy systems,” says Westphal. A legacy system is a stand-alone information network that cannot share data with others. Thousands of such “stovepipes” now are being catalogued and targeted for elimination, says Westphal. “Reform in business operations” is a high priority, he says. “We are spending a lot of money to fix this.”
For many years, he says, “every office was buying its own software. We ended up with thousands of systems that don’t talk to each other.”
The way the Army buys weapons systems also is under review, says Westphal. “Our dilemma on modernization is really just process,” he says. The Army already has set its future equipment priorities but needs to figure out how to more wisely invest research, development and acquisition dollars, he adds.
Weapon buyers and contractors need to communicate better and coordinate efforts, Westphal says. The current procurement apparatus has forgotten how to do long-term planning, he says. “In the past 10 years, we’ve been wrapped up in equipping for the two wars. We have neglected overall thinking about the long term,” he says. “We can’t afford to do that. It takes too long to put things in place and to work with industry.”
Westphal was asked to explain how the Army could possibly be thinking about a distant future at a time when the Defense Department has no long-term budget and faces the possibility of a congressionally mandated 10 percent spending reduction next year.
“We are praying that sequestration doesn’t happen,” he says. “We think it’s going to be resolved.”
The Army, Westphal insists, is obeying Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s orders to not tweak any budgets in anticipation of the sequester cuts. “Any planning we do could easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Photo Credit: iStockphoto

Topics: Counterinsurgency, Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Leadership, War Planning

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