Legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, a California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, would include Defense Department civilians in its plan to reduce the federal workforce over the next 10 years to avoid mandatory cuts in defense spending.
The Down Payment to Protect National Security Act would impose a 10 percent reduction on the federal workforce through attrition and then apply those savings to pay for one year of sequestration, including both defense and nondefense categories.
Civilian employees at the Pentagon and at bases across the country would not be exempt from the plan, McKeon said Dec. 15 during a press conference on Capitol Hill, where he was joined by several House Republicans who support the measure.
McKeon voted for the Budget Control Act, which put in place the congressional supercommittee and the sequestration process in case the committee failed. Several of the bill's supporters, including Reps. Allen West, R-Fla., Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Jon Runyan, R-N.J., also voted for the August debt ceiling agreement.
The Defense Department's civilian workforce is the largest of any federal agency, with about 790,000 people, according to the most recent Pentagon figure. McKeon said it had grown 10 percent over two years.
McKeon's proposed 10 percent reduction would be achieved over 10 years by hiring one federal worker for every three who retire. This would generate $127 billion, McKeon said.
From this, $55 billion could pay for the first year of defense cuts under sequestration. Another $55 billion could cover the nondefense cuts required, and the remaining $17 billion would be available for deficit reduction.
John Threlkeld, legislative representative for the American Federation of Government Employees, criticized McKeon's approach, saying it could lead to "wasteful outsourcing."
He also said it runs counter to McKeon's own Total Force Management approach, where the Pentagon is urged to manage civilian employees by "budgets and workloads, not arbitrary constraints."
McKeon said the steps are necessary to buy the Pentagon a little more time to plan for the harmful sequestration cuts, which are scheduled to begin in January 2013.
"All I'm saying is, let's push this back at least a year; we pay for it, and give some breathing room and some time to think about this, so that we know what we're doing," McKeon said.
By banking on future savings that might not materialize and spending them now, the plan merely pushes today's problems off to the future, said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.