Is the Army Making Workforce Decisions Without Cost Data?

Last week, Army Times reported on a memo signed by Army Secretary John McHugh proposing to “assign soldiers or units to work temporarily in ‘mission critical’ roles ‘both inside and/or outside their military occupational specialties.’” The Army Times reported that such work could include placing “thousands [of soldiers] to work in dining halls and as security guards.” Reading the comments to the Army Times story, one senses a backlash against contractors. Opinions about soldiers doing such work range from the work building character to “hell no.” According to the story, the “Army anticipates tackling two issues with the plan: soldiers with less to do, and money drying up for contractors.”Army Times explained that the Army’s move is predicated on budget reductions tied to cuts to civilian personnel and contractors as well as training cuts.

Although workforce changes are inevitable at the Department of Defense (DoD) as budgets decrease and missions evolve, there is still a need to include cost as a major variable in the workforce equation. Federal law requires that the “Secretary of Defense shall establish policies and procedures for determining the most appropriate and cost efficient mix of military, civilian, and contractor personnel to perform the mission of the Department of Defense.” Unfortunately, this isn’t always done, and DoD ends up employing the most expensive workforce. POGO found that on average, contractors can cost up to three times more than DoD civilians, and government reports have documented that the military can often be the most expensive workforce when considering all government-provided benefits.

As POGO reported in 2011, the federal government is wasting billions of dollars on service contracts without any genuine comparison of workforce costs. Keeping soldiers busy stateside is one variable in the equation, but any workforce cuts without a cost comparison might be a penny wise and a pound foolish.

POGO isn’t the only group pushing DoD to improve in this general area. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report documented systemic failures with DoD’s system for estimating workforce costs, which POGO highlighted in a letter to DoD last week. POGO will provide a more detailed summary of the GAO report later this week, but the moral of the story is that prior to making any human capital planning decisions, whether the action is to insource, outsource, or convert government job activities, we need better data and systems to ensure that all variables are included, especially cost.