Boots, Billeting, and Civilian Hiring Boom Need Relook

If the trend lines continue, personnel costs and operations and maintenance expenditures will consume some 86 percent of the Defense Department’s budget in Fiscal 2021 under the Budget Control Act’s caps, said Todd Harrison, senior defense budget fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. This effectively leaves no room for military construction, research and development, test and evaluation, and procurement, he said during an April 5 briefing to reporters in Washington, D.C. “Reforming these accounts is a must,” he said. Even though it won’t be popular with Congress, the Pentagon needs to get out in front of these trends soon—such as advocating more intelligently for further base closures and reducing the size of its civilian workforce, he said. The department needs to budget for any future BRAC rounds up front and plan for the costs of closure and environmental abatement, he said. It must also adopt the strategy of identifying “winners and losers” up front to ensure proposed closures have enough political support to get signed into law, he said. DOD’s civilian hires have boomed in the last 10 years, especially in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the combatant commands, said Harrison. Pentagon leaders will need to begin the hard process of implementing reductions in force in its civilian ranks rather than relying on attrition, he said. That’s because skilled workers tend to leave, as they have other options, while those who need to retire will stay around in order to garner benefits, he said. (See also Harrison’s CSBA brief: Looking Beyond the Fog Bank.)