Senate moves forward with plan to reduce DoD civilian workforce

The Senate moved forward with a plan to require the Defense Department to reduce its civilian workforce by 5 percent over the next five years. A measure striking that provision was defeated in a vote Friday.

Earlier this week, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which would lift a mandated 5 percent reduction to DoD’s civilian and contractor workforces over five years. But in a 53-41 vote, Cardin’s amendment was defeated.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) included the workforce reduction in the version of the bill passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year. Because the Pentagon plans to cut the number of military troops, it should also reduce the size of the civilian and contractor workforce, McCain has said.

Cardin said the reductions would result in the loss of about 36,000 civilian positions and thousands more in contractor staff.

“The amount of civilian and contractual workforce should be decided by mission, by workload and by budget,” not by “arbitrary” caps, Cardin said Friday before the vote.

He likened the reductions to “a second sequestration,” referring to the automatic across-the-board budget cuts set to take effect next month.

McCain’s proposal also drew the ire of the White House, which has threatened to veto the Senate bill in its current form. In a statement of administration policy, the Obama administration objected to the workforce reductions, which would require DoD to “significantly divest workload and impose workforce caps.”

“The Department of Defense continues to be top heavy with headquarters,” McCain said before the vote. “We all know the Department of Defense is being downsized. So, there has to be, obviously, a commensurate reduction in civilians.”

McCain also cited conversations with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, “who agrees that we need to reduce the civilian personnel as well as the uniformed personnel,” he said.

Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services, also opposed Cardin’s amendment. “We’ve got to make some reductions in the Defense budget,” he said. “This does it in a way which is flexible and necessary.”

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