YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The Department of Defense will face a worldwide civilian manning challenge in the near future, because roughly 22 percent of its work force will reach retirement age within two years, a senior Defense Department official said Monday.

“We really will be in dire straits because of attrition,” said Patricia Bradshaw, deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy.

On average, she said, department civilians continue working three years after hitting retirement age, meaning officials are looking at a five-year window, she told a gathering of civilian workers at a town hall meeting at Yongsan Garrison’s Balboni Theater.

In the January-February issue of Defense AT&L magazine, Jeanie Davis of the Army’s personnel division, was quoted alongside Bradshaw as saying the problem was being addressed by expanding the Army’s intern programs, building the number of interns from 1,586 in 2007 to 2,500 by 2013. The Army also is developing leadership programs for recent college graduates, Davis reportedly said.

“These young people are more diverse, introduce new and contemporary skills and are going to be our future leaders,” Davis said in the report.

The manning shortage was just one of dozens of other topics affecting the Defense Department civilian workforce that Bradshaw discussed Monday.

During the two-hour meeting, she talked about the department’s goals with “Human Capital Strategy,” which she described as a competency-based program with rewards linked to performance.

She said the strategy uses four goals, including “developing world class leaders,” maintaining a “mission ready workforce,” developing a “results-oriented performance culture” and utilizing “enterprise human resources support.”

Bradshaw said other challenges include the need to work in joint environments instead of with just one military branch; working for the department during the war on terror; and the necessity for interagency cooperation.

After a one-hour presentation, she opened the meeting to questions.

U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan deputy housing officer Fred Moore raised concerns about a rule that forces many defense civilians to return to the continental United States after five years overseas.

“If folks in the States don’t volunteer to go overseas, there are no jobs for us to return to,” he said. “We’re governed by the five-year rule overseas, but there’s no rule in the States.”

Bradshaw said she believed it was best to “rotate talent from overseas back to the States” and that she thinks more employees will want to work overseas in the near future.

Bradshaw said overseas experience soon would become more valued in the workforce.

Another audience member asked about employment losses when U.S. Forces Korea moves its headquarters to Camp Humphreys. He said that as a non-appropriated funds civilian, he might lose his job when the command consolidates. Unlike other Defense Department civilians, he said, NAFI — or non-appropriated fund instrumentality — employees are not eligible for the priority placement program for a new job once an old one has been eliminated. He wanted to know what would happen to the NAFI employees who couldn’t be placed into new jobs at Camp Humphreys.

Bradshaw said she didn’t have an answer for him at that time.

Some of the other issues addressed during the meeting included:

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