Pentagon unclear on civilian workforce cost reductions, says GAO

Brenda Farrell, director of defense capabilities and management issues, GAO

The Defense Department has a mandate from Congress to cut costs from its contracting work, but it’s unclear whether DoD is on-track to reach its goal.

A provision in the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires DoD to achieve cost savings in total funding for their civilian and contracting workforces from fiscal 2012-2017 that, as a percentage, matches the savings in basic military pay resulting from reductions in military end strength.

But the Government Accountability Office says the Pentagon hasn’t been giving them the full picture of where they stand in reducing contractor workforce costs. Brenda Farrell, the director of defense capabilities and management issues at GAO, told the Federal Drive with Tom Temin this isn’t the first time the two agencies haven’t seen eye-to-eye on this issue.

“We have a difference in opinion between DoD and GAO about what the law actually requires,” Farrell said.

In its review of DoD’s February 2016 progress report, GAO found that the Pentagon summarized the cost savings achieved by its contracting workforce the previous fiscal year, but didn’t provide a summary for the  military and civilian workforces.

DoD’s report includes a summary of the number of reductions made to its military and civilian workforces, but not its contracting workforce.

“They did report quite a bit on the contractor cost, but they did not include cost savings data for the military and the civilian workforce. They include FTEs [full-time equivalents] but not the actual cost for each year. DoD has the position that they interpret the statute differently from how we interpret it,” Farrell said.

GAO found that only the defense civilian workforce is on-track to meet its reduction goal by the end of fiscal 2017. The agency first reviewed DoD’s workforce drawdown strategy in December 2015, and made a number of recommendations that the Pentagon agreed to. GAO didn’t issue any new recommendations in its latest review.

“This time around, we have a different story. We do not make any new recommendations in this report. We point out some actions that they have taken to try to meet the mandate, but they’re still not there yet, especially with this cost actually being achieved, and it’s important to have the cost for each year — what’s the plan for each year leading up to FY 17 so that DoD knows it’s on-track and it can make adjustments when necessary,” Farrell said.

Congress included the workforce cost reduction provision in the fiscal 2013 NDAA to reflect the end the military’s withdrawal from Iraq and drawdown in Afghanistan.

“The DoD recognized the military was needing to draw down, and Congress thought let’s make sure that it’s balanced out with the other workforces,” Farrell said.

Congress did allow some leeway with reductions. It permitted DoD to exclude certain portions of the civilian workforce deemed mission critical. More than 538,000 defense civilian workers have been excluded from the drawdown.

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