As of last week, all of the Defense Department components that fall under the direct control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) are barred from hiring any new civilian employees.
On first blush, it’s a drastic step — a measure DoD hasn’t taken since 2013, when sudden budget cuts also forced temporary furloughs for most of its existing workforce.
Indeed, normally when a government agency orders a hiring freeze, it’s a brute-force method to reduce staff size and cut personnel costs immediately. But this time around, Robert Work, DoD’s deputy secretary, is using the freeze to compel Defense organizations to fall in line with a “delayering” initiative he first ordered last July. As soon as they do that, they’ll be free to hire again.
The order applies to most of the “fourth estate,” a term, that in this context, refers to offices outside the three military departments. All Defense agencies, for instance: the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency are affected, as are all “field activities,” a catch-all term for about a dozen large OSD offices that include Washington Headquarters Services, the Defense Technical Information Center and the DoD Education Activity.
Work’s delayering directive last summer told DoD components to restructure and “rationalize” their staffs in a way that would reduce the number of supervisors who only have a few employees within their spans of control, with the hope of flattening the Pentagon’s bureaucracy. Since then, DoD’s deputy chief management officer (DCMO) has been in charge of reviewing the management structure of all OSD agencies and field activities.
Each of those organizations was supposed to have been working on plans to reorganize themselves into a leaner structure, send their plans for doing so to the DCMO’s office, and update detailed data on their existing workforces and their “to be” organizational structures into a database called the Fourth Estate Manpower Tracking System (FMTS).
Work’s Feb. 23 memo ordering the freeze, which took effect last week, seemed to suggest that many Defense organizations haven’t done those things, and that putting a full stop on their hiring was the only way to prod them into doing so.
“We must avoid hiring into positions that an organization has already committed to eliminate as a result of delayering,” he wrote. “Once the delayering plans are codified in FMTS, components may begin hiring actions for vacant positions aligned with their approved prospective organizational structure.”
The department has been under increasing congressional pressure to cut its civilian workforce costs. The annual Defense authorization bill lawmakers passed in December requires DoD to find $10 billion in “headquarters” savings between 2015 and 2019, including a 25 percent reduction in “headquarters activities.”
That’s on top of a 20 percent headquarters reduction then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered in 2013 and subsequent congressional mandates reinforcing the point. Congressional leaders, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have criticized the cuts made so far under the Hagel initiative as a “shell game,” charging that DoD had only moved positions from headquarters to lower-level organizations without cutting many actual positions.