By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Oct. 22, 2013) -- In the last six months, Army civilians have faced two work stoppages: one in July with six weeks of four-day work weeks, and most recently, more than two weeks of a government shutdown.
During an Oct. 21 interview with Army Broadcasting at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, in Washington, D.C., Under Secretary of the Army Dr. Joseph W. Westphal said that is no way to treat a workforce that has served the Army honorably during more than a decade of war.
"Our Army civilians are public servants. They don't just serve the Army, they serve the nation. And they are absolutely, critically important to our ability to be a ready force in the future," he said. "I have traveled around the Army and I've talked to our civilians. I've listened to them. Furloughing our civilian workforce undermines our ability as an Army to maintain readiness."
Army civilians serve throughout the United States, overseas, and are deployed in war zones. Army civilians, Westphal said, are "integral to everything we do."
"For the past 12 years our Army civilians have been there, supporting our warfighters, supporting our missions, working incredible hours doing tremendous public service," he said. "Furloughing them is wrong and it hurts our total Army."
The under secretary said the Army is working with Congress and with the president to "ensure we don't do this again."
NO BUDGET HURTS READINESS
Westphal also said that budget uncertainty is hurting the Army's ability to train and maintain readiness.
"We are reducing the number of National Training Center rotations. We've reduced a significant amount of training over the last few months as we've transitioned from last year's budget to this budget," he said. "The unstable fiscal picture gives us some pretty daunting challenges. But the secretary and the chief are adamant we are going to do the utmost to maintain our levels of readiness. The president will always have his Army trained and ready to go whenever he needs us."
To make that happen, Westphal said, the Army will have to reduce costs, become more efficient, and become more innovative.
"In the training area we will have to use more simulation. We have to use more technologies, we have to train our Soldiers and build capacity in different ways than we have traditionally done."
BUDGET AFFECTS MORALE
Declining budgets, lack of an appropriations bill, sequestration, and continuing resolutions are making it hard for the Army to do business, Westphal said. And as Army leaders talk about the challenges of operating in a constrained fiscal environment, Soldiers and their families are listening and are increasingly concerned about the future.
"We must be clear about how resilient our Army really is -- we're not going to compromise on key issues that are important to our Soldiers and their families," Westphal said.
"Our commitment during these challenging times is to convey that the all Army senior leaders are mindful of the challenges and the working hard to address them," he continued. "And that we are guiding this Army into the future in a very viable and positive way. We will have some rough tides to go through -- but we will get though that.
"We have about 45,000 Soldiers deployed in Afghanistan; still a very complex combat zone and we will continue focusing on that mission to ensure our Soldiers, and Army civilians, are fully supported as we transition," he said. "We will never put our Soldiers, and those who support them, in peril."