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WASHINGTON - The Defense Department greatly appreciates the contributions of its civilian employees as it works toward achieving more efficiency across the workforce, a senior personnel official told a Senate homeland security and governmental affairs panel yesterday.

Paige Hinkle-Bowles, deputy assistant secretary of defense for civilian personnel policy, appeared before a subcommittee hearing on efficiency and effectiveness of federal programs and the federal workforce.

“We are wholly committed to the readiness, capability and efficiency of our total force to accomplish [DOD’s] mission,” she said. “Our people, to include our valued civilian workforce, are a central element of the department’s ability to serve the nation.”

While the nation has faced challenging times in the past few years, DOD’s civilian employees continue to demonstrate resilience and a staunch commitment to DOD’s mission, she noted.

One of the more recent high-profile impacts on the workforce was the involuntary furlough of civilian employees last year as a means to garner savings to meet sequestration mandates, Hinkle-Bowles said. But based on a 2013 Office of Personnel Management survey, she added, DOD leadership confirmed that the morale of its civilian workforce had been declining before the furloughs, likely due to continued pay freezes and limited budgets.

“Survey responses indicated that our workforce’s satisfaction with pay, opportunities for growth and advancement, and the resources available to get the job done have declined from previous years,” Hinkle-Bowles said.

But news from the survey was not entirely negative, she said.

“[DOD civilian employees] continue to be strong in personal commitment to achieving the mission, looking for ways to do the job better, work/life balance and job satisfaction,” Hinkle-Bowles said.

While DOD has in place strategies and systems to enhance its civilian personnel workforce, officials are concerned that about 13 percent of its civilians are eligible to retire and another 30 percent are expected to be eligible to retire within the next five years, Hinkle-Bowles said.

“We are closely monitoring these trends, recognizing the potential loss of critical skills and knowledge,” she said. “To mitigate long-term consequences, we continue to use available resources and authorities to hire into critical skills. We also continue to lead the federal government in new veteran hires, retaining their capabilities and valuable skill sets within the department.”

The Defense Department “values the work our civilians perform in support of our military,” she added, noting that department officials recognize civilians’ commitment to getting the job done, even during challenging times.

“Going forward, [DOD] is engaging and shaping our civilian workforce to increase efficiencies, ensuring that the workforce is motivated and has the skills needed for the future,” Hinkle-Bowles said.