By STEVE WATKINS
The Air Force intends to cut more than 20 percent of its headquarters staffs within a year as part of an overall downsizing effort, according to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
James said the move responds to a directive issued last summer by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all military services trim their headquarters staffs by 20 percent over five years by 2019.
“You’re going to see the Air Force do a bit better than 20 percent, a little bit more than 20 percent, and we’re going to try to do it in one year, not five years,” James told an editorial board meeting at Gannett Government Media Corp., which publishes Federal Times, C4ISR&Networks, Defense News and the Military Times publications.
Those headquarters staff reductions will affect active-duty, civilian and contractor personnel, and the bulk of those cuts will occur in fiscal 2015, she said.
“So this is, again, in the theme of — to the extent that we can — get this done more quickly rather than slowly,” James said “I think it is better for people, number one. And number two, it allows us to harvest the savings more early on so we can plow it back into readiness and some of the key modernizations.”
The headquarters downsizing occurs alongside a broader force restructuring within the Air Force that will trim the active-duty ranks by 16,700 in fiscal 2015 and another 2,000 or so in fiscal 2016.
“By next summer, we are looking to be done with this whole, all these different voluntary, involuntary measures because we’ll basically be shaped at about the right size,” she said.
“We’re going to be coming down in our overall numbers mostly in the active [duty], but somewhat in the Guard and Reserve as well. … We will also be coming down somewhat in our civilian [side],” James said.
The service plans to cut 2,700 civilian positions in 2014 and 2015 and a total of 6,300 positions over the next five years, according to Air Force spokesman Maj. Matt Hasson.
“As for [reductions in force] and things of that nature, with our civilian force, we’re going to take a similar approach: Meaning there are voluntary measures that we’ll be utilizing and [we’ll] go to the involuntary only as necessary, so a little of that remains to be seen,” James said.
She added that the service expects to avoid the use of furloughs unless it is hit with additional sequester budget cuts, as it was last year.
“What really has been very damaging to us over the last year has been the situation with furloughs in our civilian workforce. I really, really don’t want to see us return to that and we do not project that we will unless we will get somehow boxed in with another sequestration, both in level of funding and the mechanism of sequestration,” she said.
In cutting headquarters staffs, James said the Air Force will look to make consolidations among major command policy staffs who oversee and manage base support services, such as security, chaplain services, civil engineering, personnel and the like.
“One of the key areas that we’re looking at is how do we currently manage some of our installation support policies, I’ll say.”
“We’re looking at sharing services and more consolidating of the policy-oriented people at the major command level. We’re looking at: Can we put that together in a different fashion to share those services of policy, but leaving the execution people on the scene. And that we believe will create some savings for us.”
James said details of how this would work are being worked out and will be ready for her review “sometime this summer.”
“I do think this is the way of the future. Other organizations make it work. My lean-forward belief is we can make this work too,” James said. “It might mean a little loss of control for some commanders and whatnot, I think it’s a very valuable thing to look at.”