Federal employees union issues warning about cutting DoD civilian workforce

The federal government’s largest employee union wrote a letter warning that shrinking DoD’s civilian workforce will not ultimately result in savings.

A federal labor union is raising the alarm after House Appropriations Committee (HAC) leadership suggested reducing the Defense Department civilian workforce. The American Federation of Government Employees sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees defense subcommittees opposing proposals by HAC defense subcommittee chairman Ken Calvert’s proposal to cut the size of the DoD civilian workforce through attrition.

Calvert has repeatedly introduced legislation over the past several years that would cap future years’ DoD civilian employee headcount at 85% of current levels. He indicated earlier this month that he intends to continue to pursue the proposal in the current Congress.

In their letter, AFGE rejects that plan as poor management, saying the work merely gets shifted to other people and fails to achieve savings.

“The path of least resistance for the Pentagon is to do their standard approach of just looking at attrition and saying, ‘Okay, we’re not going to backfill X number of positions’ and negotiate that with commands between the Pentagon and the lower level of commands, and that’s a very randomized way of cutting,” said AFGE legislative representative John Anderson in an interview with Federal News Network.

The possibility of shrinking the DoD civilian workforce came up last summer in discussions about the 2023 military spending authorization. In May, AFGE sent a letter to the chairwoman and chairman of the House and Senate appropriations defense subcommittees urging them to reject then-Ranking Member Calvert’s recommendations.

Now Calvert is chairman instead of ranking member, which gives him greater authority to push forward a plan he advocated for over the past 15 years.

“I think this is really prominent now, because of Calvert becoming chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. And on that perch as a chair of the defense subcommittee, he can jawbone the Pentagon through the approval process, and they will basically be highly motivated to try and minimize any conflict with him,” Anderson said.

In an interview with Defense News earlier this month, Calvert said employment across the government needs to be made more efficient.

“I’m not talking about firing a bunch of people, but over a period of time and bringing the historic ratio of civilian employees relative to uniformed force back to where it should be. If we did that one thing, it would save $125 billion over five years,” he said.

Anderson said he agrees that workforce needs may change at the Pentagon, but eliminating jobs should only be done after studies to show what positions are needed and which ones should be discontinued. He said the union takes issue with a wholesale approach that would indiscriminately eliminate jobs as they were vacated.

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