DoD plans civilian workforce increase, especially health fields

The overall size of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce would grow next year, but those workers would not see a pay raise until at least the end of 2020 under the budget proposal the Defense Department and White House are rolling out this week.

The proposed increase is relatively modest, at least in the near-term. New hiring would boost the overall workforce from 752,000 to 758,000 in 2020, but it comes at a time when DoD is also pledging to continue to reduce the size of its major headquarters organizations.

In budget documents the Pentagon released Tuesday, the department said the lion’s share of the new positions are tied to operational needs, including shipyard maintenance workers, cyber and intelligence experts, and support staff for military family initiatives.

“The FY 2020 budget request continues the department’s ongoing efforts to ensure that its civilian workforce is appropriately sized to complement our military,” officials wrote in Tuesday’s budget rollout. “For DoD, ‘right sizing’ will necessitate targeted civilian growth to both restore readiness and increase the lethality, capability, and capacity of our military workforce.”

The planned increases follow the release of a business plan last year in which DoD said it would need “targeted growth” in some sectors of its civilian workforce, even as most of the rest of the federal government plans cutbacks.

For DoD, the increases extend across all of the major defense components with the exception of the Army, which plans to reduce its civilian headcount by about 1,700 personnel in 2020.

As a percentage of the existing workforce, the Air Force would see the biggest boost in 2020 — 2,500 new employees, or an increase of 1.5 percent. The Navy would add 2,700 civilian staff, or 1.3 percent more than it has now. The other agencies and field activities DoD categorizes as “Defense-wide” would add another 1,800 workers.

And defense officials forecast much larger civilian workforce additions in the health care field over the next several years. The department plans to convert roughly 15,000 of its uniformed health billets into civilian ones.

“[The budget] represents the department’s most significant review of the military medical end strength portfolio since FY 2003,” officials wrote. “The manner in which we ensure both a medically ready force and a ready medical force has evolved significantly over the past decade…The resulting reduction in active duty military medical providers will ultimately provide a medical force appropriately sized and shaped to meet National Defense Strategy requirements and will allow the MHS to optimize operational training and beneficiary care delivery.”

In addition to the pay freeze, officials realize their civilian recruiting efforts are hampered by the government’s notoriously-long hiring process.

But DoD said it believes it’s at least reversed the trend of the hiring process growing even longer. Between 2013 and 2017, the average number of days it took to onboard a new civilian worker steadily increased from 70 to 100. By 2018, officials said, the average had decreased one day to 99.

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