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Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

Blog archive

Those in the trenches say: Cut from the top


Amid lawmakers’ call to downsize the federal workforce, many commenters to this blog regularly call for chopping from the top. And they are not the only ones.

With Defense Department budget cuts in the news, a columnist for the Washington Post this week noted that many old-time observers of DOD think the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff might be ripe for downsizing, given their burgeoning growth over the years.

Of particular note: The growth over the decades in the numbers of undersecretaries, deputy undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries at OSD, as well as within the service branches themselves. The column details a number of examples.

In fact, DOD does seem overloaded at the top, given the sheer number of these folks. Too many chiefs, it would seem.

Their titles, of course, by design all confer the cachet of “secretary” on the holders.

In that regard, OSD is a bit like the public relations world, where the top honchos are supported by hierarchies of people who all have important-sounding positions.

For example, tracing down the food chain at a typical PR firm, one encounters executive vice presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents, senior account executives, account executives and assistant account executives—dozens of “chiefs” supported by one receptionist, a tech guy and maybe one or two secretaries—I mean, administrative assistants.

But you get the picture: Everyone wants to have a C-suite title, and it costs nothing to give it to them. The pay is the same. But in the end, a title doesn’t offer much of a clue to what someone actually does.

I’ve worked at PR outfits that specialized in public affairs, and held the titles of group director, managing director and vice president. But in any other business, I simply would have been called a writer.

The point is that even with title inflation, people can be performing real jobs and taking care of key functions.

As for the Pentagon, maybe the top ranks really are overgrown. DOD ain’t the PR industry: Even the officials at the lower levels of the secretary’s executive hierarchy are pretty big fish. So maybe the department is in fact top-heavy.

Most federal workers would agree that—given the current fiscal constraints that are affecting the federal workforce as a whole—the top ranks should not be exempt from cuts.

At the same time, before going after the ranks of top officials—at Defense or anywhere else—it probably would not be a bad idea to look past the inflated titles to see what people really do.

Rank-and-filers would expect the same for themselves.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Mar 09, 2012 at 4:02 PM


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