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Army: Furloughs Make Civilian Force a Serious Flight Risk

Sequester-forced furloughs and more recent workdays lost when the government shut down for two weeks killed productivity at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. Robert Cone said Wednesday at a luncheon during the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.

“What I frankly find a little tough for people you think are absolutely essential is to be told those are not essential, to send them home … This is no way to treat a full partner in the business of the Army,” Cone said.

Still worse, said Cone, is that the lost workdays came against a backdrop of hiring freezes that have left jobs going unfilled and organizational downsizing of up to 45 percent in places.

“At some point it has to be translated into a human cost of the people who work for us,” he said.

Just as the Army is concerned it could lose valuable active-duty troops because of the cutbacks that are coming, Cone said he would make the same argument about the civilian workforce.

“We as leaders have a responsibility to come up with a vision for the future of the civilian workforce,” he said. “We have to have a commitment to this notion of [civilian] leader development and professional education.”

Cone said his vision should consider taking education and development programs geared only to military personnel and opening them to civilians.

Leveraging the military’s leader development system to include civilians offers a number of opportunities, he said. There is no reason why more civilians should not take military-oriented courses, he said.

Civilians in upper management already attend university programs alongside military personnel, though and all elective courses such as military history may not be open to them. Cone said he would see this changed, and also make it possible to open education and leadership programs to lower-level civilian workers.

“Once you’ve paid for … that university management structure, it makes more and more sense to bring our great civilians in and put them on that equal footing” with the uniformed military, he said.

Programs intended to keep and develop the Army’s best civilians are particularly important given that the hiring freezes – as people have retired or left jobs because they moved away – have begun making the organization look “like a block of Swiss cheese.”

An irony of the downsizing, however, could be that making up the larger workforce with one that is smaller may turn out to be more expensive, according to Cone.

“If you want a more adaptive workforce, it may cost you in terms of the levels of education [needed],” he said. For example, he said he is being told not to use knowledge-based contracting – that is, contracting with companies or individuals with skills or knowledge that does not exist among its military or civilian employees.

"Frankly, I use knowledge based contracts because I have gaps and seams in my civilian workforce,… if they truly want to do away with knowledge based contracting, I’ve got to tell you something, there’s going to be some good jobs inside TRADOC that are going to be opening up.”

This is an opportunity for us to reshape the organization, he said.

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