Issue Briefs

Following is the summary of a recent GAO report on the Defense Department’s civilian personnel plan.


Effective human capital planning can enable the Department of Defense (DOD) to have the right people, with the right skills, doing the right jobs, in the right places, at the right time by making flexible use of its internal workforce and appropriately using contractors. According to the department, as of March 2010, DOD’s total civilian workforce included about 718,000 full-time civilians, including more than 2,900 civilians in the senior management, functional, and technical personnel workforce (hereafter referred to as senior leader workforce). Further, DOD reported that, as of the end of September 2009, there were more than 118,000 civilians in DOD’s acquisition workforce.

DOD has acknowledged, however, that with approximately 30 percent of its workforce eligible to retire by March 31, 2015, and the need to reduce its reliance on contractors to augment the current workforce, it faces a number of significant challenges. For example, in its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), DOD stressed the need for leadership in human capital management, to improve its capabilities for contributing to civilian-led activities and operations supporting "unity of effort" in homeland security, and an appropriately sized cadre of acquisition personnel who have the skills and training necessary to successfully perform their jobs. In that regard, the 2010 QDR stressed the importance of involving senior leadership in human capital management and also stated that DOD must (1) align its resources to establish a balanced total workforce, (2) possess an up-to-date human capital strategy, and (3) continue developing programs to recruit, shape, and sustain the force it needs. DOD’s 2009 strategic workforce plan states that in April 2009, the Secretary of Defense announced his intention to rebalance and rightsize the acquisition workforce by adding 20,000 personnel by fiscal year 2015–including 10,000 new hires and an additional 10,000 employees as a result of in-sourcing work that had been previously performed by contractors. Most recently, in August 2010, the Secretary of Defense announced initiatives to reduce duplication, overhead, and excess and instill a culture of savings and restraint across DOD that could affect DOD’s civilian workforce planning efforts. These initiatives included reducing the funding available for service support contractors, freezing the number of DOD civilian senior executives and flag officers at the fiscal year 2010 level, and at a minimum, reducing the number of Senior Executive Service members by 150 over the next 2 years.

Strategic workforce planning–an integral part of human capital management–helps organizations to determine if they have staff with the necessary skills and competencies to accomplish their strategic goals. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required us to review and report on DOD’s workforce plans for 2009 through 2012 no later than 180 days after DOD’s submissions. On March 31, 2010, DOD submitted its 2009 update to the human capital strategic plan, which was intended to address the requirements of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 (FY 2006 NDAA). Our objectives were to determine the extent to which DOD’s strategic workforce plan addresses the FY 2010 NDAA requirements applicable to (1) the overall civilian workforce, (2) the senior leader workforce, and (3) the acquisition workforce. In our analysis and reporting, we identify the new requirements contained in the FY 2010 NDAA.

DOD’s 2009 overall civilian workforce plan addresses 5 and partially addresses 9 of the 14 legislative requirements. For example, DOD’s plan addresses the requirement to assess critical skills. Accordingly, we treated MCOs as the department’s critical skills and evaluated critical competencies separately. Furthermore, DOD’s plan partially addresses requirements such as (1) assessing competency gaps; (2) identifying specific strategies for developing and training its civilian employee workforce, along with needed funding; and (3) assessing the department’s progress in implementing the workforce plan with results-oriented performance measures. Additionally, the plan discusses the requirement for identifying strategies for developing and training its workforce, but only partially addresses this requirement because the plan does not identify the needed funding–a new requirement in the FY 2010 NDAA. Finally, regarding partially addressing the results-oriented performance measures requirement–also a new requirement in the FY 2010 NDAA–we found that the plan does not report progress on specific goals using results-oriented performance metrics; however, other DOD documents provide some information on performance measures related to the workforce plan.

DOD’s 2009 senior leader workforce plan addresses 7, partially addresses 6, and does not address 2 of the 15 legislative requirements. For example, the plan addresses the requirement to identify any incentives needed to attract and retain qualified senior leaders– including offering benefits to senior leaders that are comparable to the benefits provided to general officers. Additionally, DOD’s workforce plan addresses the requirement to identify steps that the department has taken or plans to take to ensure that DOD manages its civilian personnel as required by 10 U.S.C. 129–essentially that the department manages the workforce based on workload requirements and available funding. Furthermore, DOD’s plan partially addresses the legislative requirements that include (1) an assessment of gaps in the existing or future workforce and (2) identifying specific strategies for, among other things, developing and training its senior leader workforce and identifying needed funding. DOD’s acquisition workforce plan addresses 5, partially addresses 10, and does not address 1 of the 16 legislative requirements. The plan addresses the legislative requirement to identify changes in the number of authorized personnel to address gaps and meet the needs of the department. Among the elements partially addressed were (1) the current mix of civilian, military, and contractor personnel; (2) a complete assessment of the critical skills of DOD’s acquisition workforce; (3) a complete assessment of the critical competencies of DOD’s acquisition workforce; and (4) the funds needed to support improvements to the acquisition workforce. For example, the plan did not identify what the appropriate mix of its total acquisition workforce should be, though it stated that guidance is in place for determining the appropriate workforce mix, DOD is inventorying its use of contractors, and in-sourcing is being incorporated as a key component of DOD’s growth strategy. Similarly, DOD’s plan partially addresses the legislative requirements to assess the critical skills and competencies of its acquisition workforce. A DOD official responsible for the acquisition workforce plan indicated that they did not differentiate skills and competencies, but rather consider skills to be an integral part of the competencies. As such, conducting competency assessments would embody an assessment of the requisite skills. In that regard, however, DOD has completed the competency assessment of its contracting career field, but not the assessments of the remaining 12 career fields, which are in various stages of progress.