Privatizing the Navy
Washington Times/AP: Navy brings civilians on board to cut costs
Chief engineer Andrew Busk wears jeans and a T-shirt to work, and he doesnÃ¢€™t salute when the captain walks by. Although Busk is in charge of the engine room of the U.S. 7th FleetÃ¢€™s temporary flagship, he isnÃ¢€™t even in the Navy.
He could, however, be the look of its future.
Reflecting increasing pressure to cut costs and shift personnel to where they are most needed, the USS Coronado recently sailed into Yokosuka, the fleetÃ¢€™s home port just south of Tokyo, with a mostly civilian crew in an experiment officials say could have broad implications for the way the Navy staffs its ships.
Stretched thin by fiscal restraints and the demands of supporting operations in Iraq and elsewhere, the Navy is streamlining its forces. As part of the changes, it is cutting nearly 8,000 personnel Ã¢€” for an estimated annual savings of nearly $1 billion.
Although the top command, weapons and other key positions are reserved for military personnel, civilians outnumber military sailors on the San Diego-based Coronado 153 to 117. The size of the crew is also significantly smaller Ã¢€” about 200 fewer than usual.
Officers say the crew reduction is possible mainly because of the experience the civilians bring with them. Although most Navy ships carry many young sailors still learning how to do their jobs, the civilians aboard the Coronado are seasoned mariners.
Ã¢€œIf they want to save money, we can do the job cheaper and more effectively,Ã¢€ Busk said, adding he was able to cut the CoronadoÃ¢€™s engine room staff from 18 to three by increasing automation and cutting redundancy.
Unlike their enlisted counterparts, civilians can be let go when they are no longer needed. They are paid about twice as much as people in uniform, but they donÃ¢€™t get many of the militaryÃ¢€™s benefits, including its retirement package. They also can be used for custodial or cooking tasks, freeing sailors for what Navy planners call Ã¢€œtip of the spearÃ¢€ posts.
While my capitalistic instincts tell me this makes perfect sense, my military sensibilities are more than a little skeptical. I’m sure these folks are at least as competent as the sailors they replace. Still, I can’t help but wonder how receptive civilian contractors will be to going off to war. Of course, we done it with the Merchant Marine for decades and, so far as I know (which, frankly, isn’t that far) we haven’t had any problems. This may well work but it’s an incredibly risky experiment.