Air Force will use RIF authority to trim civilian workforce

The Air Force’s secretary and chief of staff have made plain on many recent occasions that a decade of budget pressures have taken an excessive toll on the size of the service’s uniformed force and that some growth is now in order.

But the Air Force’s bosses’ views are exactly the opposite when it comes to the civilian workforce. Even after several recent rounds of voluntary early retirement initiatives and a headquarters restructuring that the service said had trimmed its management layers, the Air Force said last week that it has about 1,000 civilian “overages” across all of its major commands, and needs to use reduction in force (RIF) authorities to eliminate those positions.

The reductions will be carried out between now and April, officials said.

However, cutting 1,000 positions won’t mean laying off 1,000 people. The Air Force says it’s mainly using the RIF authority because it’s the only way to move civilians from the positions it intends to cut to other jobs that will continue to exist. Officials said they intended to find new positions for “most” of the affected workers.

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But for at least some of those employees, the change will mean moving to a lower pay grade. In other cases, the Air Force says it will waive the qualification requirements for some jobs so that affected employees can be moved into them.

“We will take care of our civilian Airmen by using every possible measure to minimize personal financial hardship for our civilian workforce and their families,” Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services said in a statement. “We are committed to assisting each individual through this transition.”

The RIFs though, will involve some actual layoffs. The Air Force did not specify how many civilians it expected to be let go, but did say any that will be offered spots in the DoD Priority Placement Program so they can be given increased hiring precedence for other DoD civilian jobs as they open up.

The 1,000-position cut represents a small fraction (0.6 percent) of the overall civilian workforce: the Air Force had just over 151,000 government civilians on its payroll as of the end of December.

But the American Federation of Government Employees, DoD’s largest union, criticized the decision as an “ill-conceived … slashing” of the civilian ranks.

“If the goal is to increase costs to taxpayers while eroding our military readiness, the Air Force will certainly succeed,” AFGE President J. David Cox said. “Those employees left behind will be asked to do more with less, but that will go only so far. These cuts will force the Air Force to rely on more costly contractors and military personnel to do work that civilian employees can do for two to three times less.”

Leaving aside the perennial debate about whether civilians or contractors are cheaper, the Congressional Budget Office did opine in a report last month that at least in some “commercial” positions that don’t involve fighting wars, DoD is wasting money by using military personnel instead of civilians. CBO figures the department could save up to $5.7 billion per year by replacing 80,000 service members with civilians.

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