The Army still hasn’t recovered from the 30 percent cut its acquisition workforce suffered in the 1990s. While it’s trying to fill those critical roles through insourcing, hiring of new employees and offering bonuses for officers to switch career paths, the service is turning to retired federal workers to make up the difference in the short term.
“What we have been doing with rehired annuitants is we have been targeting skill sets that rehired annuitants have and bring them back to help us either with drafting policies and procedures, helping us surge in specific areas to perform the contracting function,” said Kim Denver, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement, in an interview with Federal News Radio. “We are reaching to those subject matter experts to help us shore up the shortages we have in contracting. It’s not to be the long term. It’s a gap approach we are taking to make sure we maintain the expertise.”
Denver said nearly every organization and every command is making use of rehired annuitants. He said his office currently has about 10 retirees working on acquisition issues, down from a high of about 20 last year.
Government-wide use of annuitants was down in 2010
In the fiscal 2010 report to Congress, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy 140 annuitants hired in 2009, but up from 57 in 2008. The 2011 report is not yet available. Congress gave agencies the power to hire annuitants without a salary offset in the General Services Administration Modernization Act of 2006. The provision was set to expire in 2011, but Congress extended it another five years to 2015 in the 2010 Defense Authorization bill. The law also restricted appointments for annuitants to one year unless the head of the agency signs a waiver for a longer term position.
The departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security were the biggest civilian users of rehired annuitants with 12 and 9, respectively. The General Services Administration has an entire webpage dedicated to hiring annuitants.
Denver said most annuitants come back for about two years on average and have been used in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They come back because they feel a service and a duty to the mission the Army has and to support the government,” he said. “But what also makes the authority attractive too is there is not a salary offset because they are retired. If we didn’t have authority to prevent the salary offset it would be a lot more difficult to attract rehired annuitants.”
Denver said the administrative assistant to Army Secretary John McHugh must approve the hiring of annuitants in the Washington, D.C.-metro area. Outside of the National Capital Region, he said individual commands have their own approval processes.
Army intends to grow acquisition workforce
The Army’s acquisition workforce, which stands at about 43,000 civilian and uniformed members, could increase by almost 2,000 over the next few years, according to a March 2011 report by the Defense Acquisition University.
More specifically, Denver said the Army plans on increasing the number of contracting specialists for a total of 9,000 by 2017. But he expects to continue to rely on annuitants as the benefits they bring are immeasurable.
“As we are building this workforce, the initial benefit that comes to the Army is the expertise that comes from contracting. We are continuing to educate and train the workforce, but there’s the experience factor that you can’t replicate and can only occur from doing contracting and doing it for a number of years,” he said. “So, as we begin to update policies and draft policies and our procedures, we work with these rehired annuitants to draft our policies and procedures so that we take into account what we’ve experienced over time.”
Denver said other offices use annuitants to execute contracting actions to help them get through workload surges. He added there is a financial benefit because the Army doesn’t have to pay for health insurance and other benefits.
But Denver said the financial benefit to the Army is secondary.
“The cost is least important. The value these rehired annuitants bring is their expertise. Their expertise has occurred over a 20-plus-year time frame, and that can’t be replicated,” he said. “A lot of the senior leaders in contracting across the Army believe we cut too deeply in the 1990s. Now as we see that we are getting into initiatives of better buying power, making better use of the taxpayer’s dollars, we want to make sure we negotiate good vehicles and good deals for the Army. We need to rely on rehired annuitants and their expertise.”
Denver said finding the people is challenging. He said commands and organizations should look at their retirement listings to find potential candidates.
“We put out announcements and recruit for positions,” he said. “In many cases, we create an over-hire position that allows us hire above our authorization levels for shorter period of time. We use USAJobs.gov to advertise, but a lot of the time they are targeted recruitment because of their expertise.”
Denver said annuitants are just a temporary fix to the bigger challenge of getting skilled acquisition workers in place, but the Army couldn’t survive without them today.