DOD Force Mix Issues:

Converting Some Support Officer Positions to Civilian Status Could Save Money

NSIAD-97-15: Published: Oct 23, 1996. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 1996.

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GAO reviewed certain military support officer positions as possible candidates for conversion to civilian status, focusing on the: (1) criteria the military services use to determine which officer positions are military essential; (2) officer positions that could be filled with civilians without harming operational capabilities; and (3) cost savings achieved through the conversion of military positions to civilian status.

GAO found that: (1) since 1954, Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 1100.4 has required the services to staff positions with civilian personnel unless the services deem a position military essential for one or more reasons, including combat readiness, legal requirements, training, security, rotation, and discipline; (2) however, the DOD directive and service implementing guidance provide local commanders with wide latitude in justifying the use of military personnel in their staffing requests; (3) the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force are currently staffing officers in about 9,500 administrative and support positions that civilians may be able to fill at lower cost and with greater productivity due to the civilians' much less frequent rotations; (4) examples of career fields that contain positions that might be converted are information and financial management; (5) DOD could save as much as $95 million annually by converting the roughly 9,500 positions GAO identified; (6) savings achieved through military to civilian conversions can be used to pay for needed priorities such as weapon systems modernization; (7) final cost savings and the elapsed time before all of the savings were realized would depend on how many positions DOD converted and how the conversions were carried out; (8) on the other hand, GAO recognizes that a number of impediments exist to military to civilian conversions, such as the ongoing civilian drawdown in DOD and a perceived preference by local commanders for military rather than civilian personnel in certain positions; and (9) these impediments are not insurmountable, but they will be difficult to overcome without direction and support from senior leaders at DOD, such as from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and sustained attention to overcoming the impediments and developing and executing the conversion plan.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not intend to take action on this recommendation. DOD continues to believe that it would be unwise to convert a large number of military positions to civilian status until perceived problems pertaining to continuity of funding are solved.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should overcome the impediments to conversion, develop a plan to convert officer positions in support activities that are not military essential, and require that the services implement the plan and report back to the Secretary on progress in implementing the conversion plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Policy guidance addressing reassessment of support positions following major organizational changes will be included in the annual defense manpower guidance.

    Recommendation: To ensure that decisions identifying positions as military essential remain valid, the Secretary of Defense should develop a process to ensure that the need for military support positions is reassessed when major changes or reorganizations occur.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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