National Security

The Military Has a Bureaucrat Problem

'We can’t prevent wars or win them with an army of bureaucrats'

Chuck Hagel
Chuck Hagel / AP

Since President Barack Obama took office in 2009, the Pentagon's civilian workforce has grown by 7 percent and the number of active-duty military personnel has been slashed by 8 percent.

Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute writes in the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon has a "growing army of bureaucrats," and that the effect of this shift in personnel can already be seen on the world stage.

The decline in the size and capability of the armed forces has diminished the U.S. military’s forward presence and reduced Washington’s ability to shape world events and deter conflict. The remaining two Army brigades in Europe didn’t prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from violating Ukraine’s sovereignty. Nor has the Pentagon’s "pivot" to Asia stopped China from establishing an air-defense identification zone, North Korea from sinking a South Korean warship, or Iran from pursuing regional hegemony.

Every dollar spent on the civilian workforce above what’s needed cannot be invested in other priorities. The block of defense civilians has grown so large that the Air Force’s civilian workforce is essentially at parity with the entire Air Force National Guard and Reserve combined. As for the Navy, civilians are the only employee group that has grown—by nearly 9 percent—since 2009.

Allowing the civilian workforce to grow is even more questionable in light of the deep military cuts demanded by the president. In 2010 Mr. Obama began a major initiative to identify more than $100 billion in savings through "efficiency" over the next five years. Since then, the White House has asked that an additional $240 billion in efficiency savings be identified.

In reality, many of these expected savings are not achievable in the time allotted, so the bill is being paid instead through reduced readiness and deferred modernization of aging ships, aircraft and vehicles across all of the armed forces. Meanwhile, the Defense Department’s civilian workforce hasn’t been asked to undertake any efficiency drill at the level demanded from those in uniform. Compare that with the drawdown of the 1990s when the Pentagon civilian workforce was reduced by 38 percent and active-duty forces by 34 percent.

Eaglen concludes that it is time that Obama and the Pentagon reverse this course.

"With rising threats and declining military superiority, it’s about time Washington figured out that we can’t prevent wars or win them with an army of bureaucrats," writes Eaglen.