Some Changes Advocated by DoD Should be Implemented Across Government Says GAO head

In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, GAO’s David Walker discussed the proposed reforms to the civil service structure in DoD and the implications of these reforms elsewhere in government.

This week, Comptroller General David Walker discussed the proposed reforms to the civil structure in the Department of Defense in his testimony before a Senate subcommittee on governmental affairs. As expected, GAO considered the implications of the proposals within Defense but also the impact some of these changes may have for the rest of the government.

As has noted in several recent articles, what happens in the Department of Defense is likely to have an impact on the rest of government and the impact is likely to be sooner rather than later. Walker’s testimony adds credence to this prediction.

First, what about DoD? Walker said that the Department of Defense does not have a workforce that is balanced by age or experience and the transfer of institutional knowledge is at risk. The imbalance was created by the downsizing in the 1990’s when little attention was being paid to the nature and structure of the agency’s workforce.

The agency faces several challenges. About 50% of the procurement workforce is gone due to downsizing. More than 50% of the agency’s employees will be able to retire by 2005. The viability of the maintenance workforce is in doubt. 56% of the maintenance workforce was reduced since 1987 and many of the employees who remain are eligible to retire.

The agency also faces major challenges in planning for succession planning.

The Department of Defense is addressing these challenges with a more strategic approach. But these plans have not been integrated with plans of the military services or contractor personnel planning.

GAO’s Walker says that changes to the personnel system of one agency should be enacted by Congress to the extent these changes are addressing a solution to a problem unique to that agency. He warned that several of the major proposed reforms being advocated by DoD should be viewed from a broader perspective as some of the same problems in Defense also exist in other agencies.

As some of these reforms would impact the civil service structure and the Office of Personnel Management, the authority to make changes should be made on a government-wide basis and not just changed in Defense. He also argued that authority to implement changes in these broader programs should not be given until performance management systems and safeguards are also put into place. Programs he was referring to that fall into this category include pay-for-performance, pension offset waivers, and establishing pay bands.

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About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47