Former Comptroller Wants Better Education for Civilian Workforce

Former Comptroller Wants Better Education for Civilian Workforce

Photo by: U.S. Army

March 29, 2017

A former George W. Bush administration defense official is calling for a complete overhaul of the Defense Department’s civilian personnel system to separate them from other federal workers and to encourage the workforce to be more efficient and better equipped for their jobs.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on personnel, Dov Zakheim, who served as Pentagon comptroller, said productivity of the civilian workforce is something that needs closer study at a time of tight resources. “The military has a system of professional military education. You can't move up unless you've … been at staff college, been at National War College or one of the service war colleges. Not the case for civilians. There is no civilian equivalent.”

“Part of the reason that the workforce is not as efficient as it could be is a lack of training and education that it needs to keep pace with new development in technology, in cyber, and in human-resources management itself,” Zakheim said. “DoD civilians can take courses in everything from auditing to contracts management to test and evaluation and cost estimation, but many or most of these courses are taught via distance learning, which does not necessarily ensure that students will absorb or retain what they’ve been taught.”

Zakheim had several suggestions, each requiring changes in federal personnel regulations or the law.

Anyone rising to Senior Executive Service rank should have a minimum of one year of education from a business school or technology institute.

Military retirees should be barred for five years after retirement from serving in a contracting job that augments the federal civilian workforce. “Too many folks flip their badges,” he said.

Those jobs where contractors are doing work previously offloaded by defense civilians should be limited, Zakheim said. “Too often, DoD civilians rely all too heavily on contractors for work that they should undertake themselves,” he said. “The result is that what's produced is more costly and often, in my personal experience, less than adequate to the task.”

Zakheim is a former National War College professor who served in the Defense Department during the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, rising to be Pentagon comptroller. He currently serves as vice chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s board of trustees, is senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and is a senior fellow at CNA Corp., a nonprofit research group specializing in defense-related issues.