WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 8) - The civilian workforce is integral to the future of the Army, the Under Secretary of the Army said Wednesday during the Army Civilian Luncheon at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting.

"If the civilian workforce disappeared, the Army would shrink by almost 250,000 positions: 250,000 analysts, leaders, managers, scientists, technicians and workers would disappear, reducing the full-time employees - military and civilian - of the Army by nearly a third ... Losing all of you would empty the equivalent of Forts Bragg, Bliss, Hood, Lewis and the Pentagon combined," said Nelson M. Ford, who was also recently named the Army's chief management officer.

He added that some Army commands would be decimated, including the Army Materiel Command, which would lose 99 percent of its workforce; the Corps of Engineers, almost 96 percent - which would also put much of the nation's infrastructure at risk - and the Army Medical Command would lose about half its force.

Army contracting and base support operations like child-development centers and motor pools would cease to exist, he said, as would planning for the Army's future with programs like Future Combat Systems.

"These kinds of effects would play out at every Army installation around the world," Ford said. "Hidden, essential functions would cease and the Army would direct fewer, precious resources to fill a huge void."

And because many combat support functions like human resources, logistics and ammunition manufacturing have been civilianized, he said the Army's combat readiness would suffer. This is especially true because at least 3,700 Army civilians are deployed right now, he said, performing critical jobs like equipment maintenance and building and infrastructure construction.

In an interview following his speech, Ford pointed out that the civilians in theater receive benefits as close to those of Soldiers as possible, including lifetime care in the Army medical system if they sustain injuries.

Nor could the Army replace civilians, Ford said, adding it would be virtually impossible to recruit and retain another 250,000 Soldiers. He also said that many contractors would be too expensive. Either way, he maintained the Army would lose the continuity civilians provide.

"Many functions and projects, large and small, would be impossible without the essential support to Army missions provided by you, our Army civilians," he told Army civilians in the audience. "Your loss would mean fewer reconstruction projects, a murkier intelligence picture, degraded administration and supply. Losing you would mean haphazard mission accomplishment.

"Without you, the Army would be lost. You give us the capabilities we depend on today and my guess is that you will be more, not less, important in the future. ...Every day, you keep the equipment serviced, the contracts flowing, the ammunition manufactured and you maintain precious pieces of our nation's infrastructure. You are not only the Army's back office, you perform essential tasks in virtually every organization in the Army," he continued.

Unfortunately, Ford said, the Army faces the prospect of losing civilians in the future if it is forced to rely on continued resolutions for funding and with about half of Army civilians eligible for retirement in the next 10 years.

So the Army must act now, he said, and make Army civilians more central to the Army's mission. It is investing in civilian education, civilian leader management and career progression and training.

Although Ford acknowledged that many employees don't like the National Security Personnel System or may not know much about it, he said the new system will lead to a much more productive and satisfied workforce who can cross-train and learn new specialties.

"The ideas behind NSPS, I think, are good. It provides more flexibility, better opportunities to reward stellar performers, to kind of change the thinking of federal employees about how you get promoted. I'd have to say that in its implementation, it's been less than what people expected ... but hoping we'll revert to the status quo is unrealistic. The best thing that we can do now is make it work as well as we can make it work given the constraints... No doubt it's cumbersome now and not everything people thought it would be, but I have no doubt it will be," he said following the program.

Ford also said that it's important to increase the workforce, but that in order to attract talented workers, the Army has to simplify and shorten the hiring process and give supervisors the power to hire their own employees.