Shift military support jobs to civilians, close inefficient facilities, GAO urges Pentagon would use savings to procure high-tech weapons

April 05, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- If the U.S. military wants the latest in fighter jets and other high-tech weaponry, it will have to shift more noncombatant jobs to a less-expensive civilian work force and close additional obsolete facilities, according to a report released yesterday.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that about 45 percent of active-duty military personnel, or 660,000 men and women, are assigned to support activities, ranging from accountants and managers to medical workers.

But civilian employees could perform many of those functions for an average $15,000 less than a military person can. Reductions in military forces over the past several years and increases in benefits have left a more senior -- and therefore more expensive -- uniformed force.

The GAO also found that billions of dollars are wasted each year on "unneeded facilities and inefficient activities." For example, the Pentagon spends hundreds of millions of dollars to store surplus equipment; 40 percent of the capacity of the Defense Department's 21 major supply depots exceeded its 1996 needs; and $51 million is being spent on accounting facilities that are no longer needed.

Even after the completion of the round of military base closings approved by Congress in 1995, the Pentagon will still have research and development laboratories with an estimated 35 percent excess capacity.

The Pentagon needs to consolidate and eliminate where it can, using private industry's best practices, the report said.

Streamlining studied

Each service is already assessing how to streamline its operations in order to use fewer military personnel, the report said, referring to a wide-ranging defense review slated to be completed in May. The GAO report also urged the Pentagon to prepare a detailed plan with timetables to reduce support costs.

"You don't have to take cuts out of your combat forces; you can take them out of your infrastructure," said Richard Davis, director of the GAO's National Security Analysis branch.

An objective of a 1993 Pentagon review was to reduce and streamline the military's support functions without harming its readiness to fight. The Pentagon has said it plans to use any savings to help pay for what is widely viewed as the vital task of modernizing weapons. The Pentagon wants its current $39 billion budget for weapons to rise to $60 billion by 2001.

The total amount projected for infrastructure during those years is $744 billion, outweighing the $537 billion expected for opera- tional missions.

The proportion of active-duty military personnel who work in support functions varies by service. In 1997, those working in support functions included 63 percent of the Air Force, 34 percent of the Army, 44 percent of the Navy and 40 percent of the Marines.

Officers in noncombat jobs

GAO said a 1996 review of Army, Navy and Air Force administrative and support positions found that about 9,500 military officers were in noncombatant jobs that could be staffed by civilians. The report faulted the Army for "long-standing weaknesses" in analyzing its workload and needs, while saying the Navy does not have an "effective program" for determining what personnel are needed for its shore facilities.

The report said that Pentagon officials last fall concurred with GAO recommendations in this area and would hold meetings to try to convert positions from military to civilian.

Susan Hansen, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the report will "serve as the blueprint" for the Pentagon's streamlining efforts. The issue, she said, is, "What is the best mix of people and resources to meet the challenges of protecting our nation's security in the coming decades?"

At a recent hearing, Rep. Floyd D. Spence, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the National Security Committee, said: "The [Defense] department's overhead is consuming too many people and resources at a time when combat forces are being cut back and stretched thin by operational tempos."

But the GAO's Davis saw another problem. "Part of the dilemma is Congress," he said, noting that some members don't want to cut troops and others balk at shutting Pentagon facilities. "They don't want to close any of those things. They're looking at jobs in their districts."

Pub Date: 4/05/97

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