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Pentagon, regional staffs growing despite orders to trim personnel

Data: 15 percent increase from 2010 to 2012

Jun. 3, 2013 - 05:34PM   |  
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Defense Department's staffs have grown into 'the world's largest back-office.'
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says the Defense Department's staffs have grown into 'the world's largest back-office.' (Thomas Brown/Staff)
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Staffs grow

Overall, staff sizes of major US military commands grew by 15 percent from 2010 to 2012, despite then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ call to reducestaff sizes as a way of cutting redundancy and saving money.
Organization; Size 2010; Size 2012; Change; % Change
OSD: 2,433; 2,665; +232; 9.5%
Joint Staff: 1,286; 4,244; +2958; 230%
AFRICOM: 1,661; 1,919; +285; 15.5%
CENTCOM: 2,686; 3,207; +521; 19.4%
EUCOM: 2,494; 2,286; -208; 8.3%
NORTHCOM: 1,585; 1,687; +102; 6.4%
PACOM: 3,825; 4,147; +322; 8.4%
SOUTHCOM: 1,795; 1,797; +2; 0.1%

The size of the Pentagon’s vast oversight organizations grew by more than 15 percent from 2010 to 2012, despite efforts to pare down the US Defense Department’s bureaucracy, an analysis has found.

On Aug. 9, 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon needed to cut staff sizes. He made this task part of his efficiencies initiative — an effort to save hundreds of billions of dollars through better business practices. The military services’ incentive for accomplishing these tasks was that they would be able to get back some of that money to reinvest in other priorities.

“Constraining the personnel available is one way to force this painful but necessary process to take place,” Gates said then. “Therefore, I am directing a freeze on the number of OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], defense agency and combatant command [COCOM] positions, at the FY10 levels, for the next three years.”

But almost three years later, staff sizes within OSD, the Joint Staff and COCOMs have grown, prompting a new round of calls from senior Pentagon officials and defense observers to truncate the so-called “fourth estate.”

The Joint Staff, for example, grew from 1,286 people in 2010 to 4,244 people in 2012, a 230 percent increase.

“The problem is the bureaucracy is more resilient than even the most powerful secretary,” said Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, consultant and member of the Defense Business Board.

Unlike prior efforts to cut back staff positions, however, DoD officials have more of an incentive to do so now, experts say. Since DoD’s budget is capped and with more defense spending cuts on the horizon, maintaining staff size means reducing spending in other areas, such as training, research and weapon procurement.

Even though staff sizes grew over the past three years despite efforts to freeze or reduce them, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has made reducing this type of overhead a major priority.

Hagel signaled the rise in overhead costs during his first major policy speech in early April at National Defense University. He said DoD needs to “pare back the world’s largest back office.

“Prior efficiency campaigns yielded substantial savings from the services, and some from the DoD elements known as the ‘Fourth Estate,’ which consists ... of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the combatant commands and the defense agencies and field activities — the Missile Defense Agency as well as those that provide health care, intelligence and contracting support,” Hagel said. “We need to relook at funding for these activities, which won’t be easy.”

The growth

Between 2010 and 2012, OSD, the Joint Staff and COCOMs added about 4,500 positions, according to a Defense News analysis of multiple DoD personnel documents and interviews with experts. More than 65 percent of the staff size growth was within the Joint Staff, the organization at the Pentagon that oversees the uniformed military and global operations.

The staff sizes do not include the thousands of contractors working within each organization.

The majority of the growth within the Joint Staff stems from the closure of US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), which promoted and organized training between the military services. Gates ordered the closure of JFCOM in 2010.

That year, the Joint Staff had just shy of 1,300 military and civilian positions. In 2012, that number rose to more than 4,200.

About 2,500 of these positions were directly attributed to absorbing Joint Forces Command’s duties and responsibilities, Joint Staff spokesman Lt. Col. Larry Porter said.

“They say they closed JFCOM,” Punaro said. “They did not close ... they added them to the Joint Staff.”

This year, the Joint Staff has cut more than 1,000 positions and has about 3,100 military and civilian billets, Porter said. And more cuts are on the way as another 100 positions — possibly more — are marked for elimination in 2014.

Collectively, the Joint Staff and COCOMs are planning to cut 400 headquarters staff positions over the next five years, which the Pentagon says is part of a nearly $900 million overhead savings plan, according to DoD data within a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

OSD is authorized to have 2,540 positions, said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, slightly down from 2,665 in 2012.

But when contractors are included, that number is much higher. When Punaro looked into Pentagon staff sizes for Gates, he found about 5,000 people — civilian, military and contractors — working at OSD.

“They need to bite the bullet in their own backyard if you are the secretary of defense and you want the rest of the Pentagon to tighten their belt,” Punaro said.

Trimming the fat

DoD operates six COCOMs that oversee military operations in different parts of the world. Each of those commands is supported by a subordinate, service-specific command. For example, Army Pacific, Marine Forces Pacific, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Air Forces are the service components of US Pacific Command.

Experts say DoD can trim more fat there by eliminating redundant positions across the COCOMs and the subordinate service commands.

In a May report, GAO — the nonpartisan, investigative arm of Congress — found significant overlap between the service-supporting commands and the COCOMs. Overlap is common in a variety of positions, such as collecting intelli­gence, coordinating operations, performing strategic planning and policy and supporting communications.

“Even though the combatant commands rely on the service component commands’ personnel to support their missions and operational requirements, they do not have oversight or visibility into the service component commands’ authorized manpower or how the components determine the size and structure of their staff to support the combatant commands’ missions,” GAO said. “Based on our analysis of data that we gathered, in fiscal year 2012, there were 7,795 authorized positions at the headquarters of the service component commands, which was more than double the 3,817 authorized positions at the headquarters of the combatant commands.”

Moreover, the COCOMs do not have clear information regarding personnel assigned to the supporting service commands.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, civilian positions at the COCOMs — not including US Central Command — almost doubled from 2,370 in 2004 to 4,450 in 2012, according to GAO. However, the number of authorized military positions decreased about 9 percent from 6,250 to 5,670 across that same period.

The headquarters support costs, including civilian pay, contract services, travel and equipment reviewed by GAO at the COCOMs, more than doubled from $500 million in 2007 to $1.1 billion in 2012. Contract services and civilian pay were the primary drivers of the increase, GAO said.

During a budget-cutting drill conducted by four Washington think tanks — the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Center for Strategic and International Studies, Center for New American Security and American Enterprise Institute — teams from each cut DoD’s nearly 800,000 civilian workforce by between 82,000 and 263,000 people.

“I think that that’s remarkable, given the range in strategies, the range of view of people [participating] that they had so much agreement in this area in particular,” said Todd Harrison, a CSBA analyst who helped organize the drill.

The Pentagon also estimates it has more than 700,000 contractors working alongside its civilian and military workforce, but the exact number is unknown.

“They cannot really tell you, [and] Congress is frustrated,” Punaro said.

Estimates peg the number of contractors as high as 700,000, around the same size as the Pentagon’s entire civilian workforce.

“In business, if you cannot control your headcount, you are doomed,” Punaro said. “So, they do not control their headcount, and they do not have mechanisms to control the headcount. There ought to be someone that owns headcount, and you cannot increase it without higher authority.”

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