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Pentagon Eyes Civilian Workers For Overseas Posts Print

By Daniel Friedman - Defense News - October 23, 2006

The U.S. Defense Department may seek legislation to make it easier to deploy civilians overseas, a Pentagon official said Oct. 18.

The department wants to review laws that make it difficult to reclassify job descriptions of employees who may be useful abroad, David Chu, the Pentagon's undersecretary for personnel and readiness, said at a conference sponsored by the Government Electronics and Technology Association in Falls Church, Va.

The potential changes would, for example, make it easier to deploy a stenographer whose ability to speak Arabic would make him or her more valuable overseas, Chu said.

All civilian deployments would remain voluntary, he said.

Pentagon Civilians in DoD

The Defense Department also is working to identify military jobs that could be filled by Pentagon civilians or contractors. Twenty thousand jobs have been converted so far, and the department hopes to double that number by 2008, Chu said.

Those measures are among steps the Pentagon is considering to offset the rapid increase in the cost of paying military personnel, Chu said.

Driven largely by increases in health and housing costs, personnel spending has risen steadily as a proportion of U.S. defense budgets since the early 1990s, he said. From 2000 to 2004, annual compensation for active-duty personnel rose from $123 billion to $158 billion, he noted.

As a result, the Pentagon is considering a series of recommendations made last February by an Advisory Committee on Military Compensation.

"We are rethinking what the military compensation should look like - indeed, what the military career should look like," Chu said..

Proposals include giving military members more compensation during their careers rather than at retirement and substituting cash for in-kind benefits, like housing, Chu said.

The Pentagon also is considering ways to cut back on barracks and allow more personnel to find private housing, he added.

Studies show most employees prefer immediate cash payment to other forms of compensation, but change is difficult due to the political support for in-kind payments, Chu said.

Spending on military compensation in the current budget is $30 billion higher than the executive branch recommended, continuing a 12-year trend of Congress allocating more than the president requested, he noted.

"Reversing that trend . is one of our strategic objectives in the months and years ahead," he said. 

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