Human Capital:

Critical Skills and Competency Assessments Should Help Guide DOD Civilian Workforce Decisions

GAO-13-188: Published: Jan 17, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 17, 2013.

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What GAO Found

In fiscal year 2012, the Navy and the Air Force met their adjusted civilian workforce cap targets, but the Army did not. The Department of Defense (DOD) estimated the civilian workforce cap saved the department $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2012 and would save a total of $11.5 billion through 2016. At the time the cap was extended to the services, each was executing its fiscal year 2011 budgets with additional planned growth expected. Further, the services were granted departmentwide and service-specific exceptions to exceed their fiscal year 2010 levels by 13,001 full-time equivalents (FTE), or 3.7 percent.

It is unclear the extent to which DOD considered departmentwide priorities for critical skills and competencies to achieve current and future missions when implementing the cap. DOD's decisions about which skills and competencies to maintain were not informed by competency gap assessments because DOD has not completed most of those assessments. In 2006, Congress mandated that DOD conduct competency gap assessments, as part of its strategic workforce planning efforts, which GAO reported in September 2012 was only completed for 8 of 22 mission critical occupations. Functional community managers are responsible for these assessments, but did not provide input to the services to help preserve critical skills and competencies. DOD is working toward completing its gap assessments by 2015. Skill and competency gaps undermine agencies' ability to meet vital missions. For example, GAO has reported that the shortage of trained acquisition personnel impedes DOD's capability to oversee and manage contracts. A fully developed workforce plan, with all completed gap assessments, would help DOD make informed decisions about reducing its workforce and develop strategies to mitigate skill shortages that impact on achieving the mission. Moreover, DOD did not document how it maintained critical skills and competencies when making decisions in implementing the cap, including decisions about exceptions to the cap. DOD granted exceptions to the cap which, officials stated, were to meet specific mission priorities. For example, DOD granted exceptions for the acquisition workforce in an effort to meet the department's goal of increasing its acquisition workforce by 10,000 full-time equivalent positions by fiscal year 2015. Internal control standards state that significant events need to be clearly documented. Without documenting the approach, GAO cannot determine the extent to which DOD maintained the department's critical skills and competencies.

Why GAO Did This Study

DOD is in large part dependent on the skills and competencies of civilian personnel comprising almost 800,000 FTE positions. Between fiscal years 2002 and 2012, DOD's budgeted civilian personnel costs increased by about 21 percent, to about $72 billion. In fiscal year 2010, the then-Secretary of Defense directed the Office of the Secretary of Defense and other headquarters commands to freeze (or cap) the number of civilian FTEs at the fiscal year 2010 level for fiscal years 2011-13. During fiscal year 2011, he extended the cap to the military services for fiscal years 2012-13 and granted exceptions adjusting the caps above fiscal year 2010 levels. As requested, GAO determined (1) the military services' progress in meeting adjusted civilian workforce cap targets for fiscal year 2012 and associated savings and (2) steps DOD has taken to help ensure that, in implementing the cap, it has maintained critical skills and competencies for its civilian workforce. GAO limited its focus to U.S. civilian direct-hire employees (not, for example, foreign national employees) and to service efforts to meet cap levels in fiscal year 2012. GAO reviewed DOD's efficiency guidance and analyzed service fiscal year 2010-12 budget information.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD involve functional community managers and use information from its critical skill and competency gap assessments as they are completed to make informed decisions for future changes to the workforce and document its strategies. DOD partially concurred with these recommendations and noted actions taken.

For more information, contact Brenda S. Farrell at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure the department maintains its critical skills and competencies, when planning for and implementing future civilian workforce actions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to involve functional community managers and to the extent possible, use information from gap assessments of its critical skills and competencies as they are completed to make informed decisions for possible future reductions or justify the size of the force that it has.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help ensure the department maintains its critical skills and competencies, when planning for and implementing future civilian workforce actions, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to document its efforts to strategically manage its civilian workforce and maintain critical skills and competencies for future reductions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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