Transfer of technical jobs will test Army's workforce planning

Defense strategy for moving work down the East Coast is solid, but implementation will be tricky, GAO says.

The transfer of thousands of scientific, engineering and contracting jobs from New Jersey to Maryland in 2011 will present the Army with massive workforce challenges, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The Army will have to hire about 3,700 civilians to replace employees unwilling to move from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and to fill about 700 new positions, the report (GAO-08-1010R) stated. Adding to the challenge is the fact that many of the positions require technical expertise, and almost all require some level of security clearance.

The service has a strategy that should help it overcome those hurdles, GAO said, but it will have to remain vigilant and flexible as it executes that plan.

First, the Army is figuring out the mix of skills that will be necessary at Aberdeen Proving Ground and determining where there are likely to be gaps. The service has started identifying current workers who could take the place of critical employees who don't plan to make the move, and is reaching out to universities in Maryland and local professional organizations for other recruits. Defense also has advertised its open positions at job fairs. A June event enticed more than 1,500 applicants, GAO said.

Even with these efforts, the Army does not expect to have Aberdeen Proving Ground fully staffed until 2016, the report noted. The service plans to seek direct hire authority, GAO said, which could reduce that estimate by as much as two years. That would still mean three years with a lean staff, so officials plan to prioritize work and transfer tasks to other Defense organizations or contractors if necessary, according to the agency. Officials are starting discussions with contractors who provide support in New Jersey, to assess their ability and willingness to relocate.

Finally, in anticipation of security clearance delays, the Army is planning to obtain interim credentials that don't require full background investigations. That strategy is somewhat risky, GAO noted, because employees would have access to classified information before they are thoroughly vetted. But the benefit is employees would not have to wait to start working. Aberdeen Proving Ground also is participating in a pilot program to expedite processing of applications, the report said, and the "early results of the [program] have been promising."

The GAO report is part of a series of reviews it is conducting on implementation of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommendations, which were more sweeping and complicated than those in previous rounds because they came during wartime and were designed to transform the department and save money.

The closure of Fort Monmouth was one of 182 recommendations in the 2005 round, and Defense noted in response to GAO that the associated difficulties -- which also include construction of new facilities at Aberdeen, relocation of equipment and funding -- are not unique. "The department's success in implementing equally complex recommendations in the previous rounds and its actions to date in this round demonstrates its commitment to ensuring this recommendation will be implemented efficiently and effectively," wrote Wayne Arny, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment.

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