Tory cuts to Public Service make a mockery of the ‘Defence Team’ concept

All this week, reports have been coming out from the federal government about closures and reductions in federal service programs.  Up until the various announcements, Defence Department spokespersons repeatedly declined to comment where the anticipated 1,000 jobs would be cut, citing the ‘rights’ of ‘Defence Team members’ to be advised before any specific information was released to the public.  CBC News, in a report released on 20 April entitled “Federal Job Cuts: Tracking the rollout,” now estimates the number of positions to be cut within DND is 1,478.  But, even though the notices have gone out warning that members of the PS may loose their jobs over the next two years, there is serious concern that the total reduction numbers are not yet clear.

Up until now, the Department of National Defence has been very fond of the term “The Defence Team.”  It was used to convey a common sense of purpose and to engender a commitment to “The Defence Mission” across the civilian and military elements of the department.  The notion that a ‘higher purpose’ exists is useful for overcoming resistance to new ideas, changing tasks and adverse working conditions.  If a team exists, them trotting out the old expression ‘taking one for the team’ can be employed when someone is reluctant to do whatever is required.

In the extreme case of battlefield dilemmas, the team concept is central to how combat teams function.  Heroism is used to describe the incredible risks teammates will accept in order to support their teammates and accomplish the task at hand.  But the concept of ‘team’ is used in a wide array of other contexts to build identity and promote an ethos that puts the interests of an individual to a subordinate position behind those of the company, organization or sporting team.  Hockey players throw themselves in front of 100-mile per hour shots to save a goal, unions are more likely to accept concessions in order to save the company, and military acts of self sacrifice are legendary.

The problem is that to be a team member means (according to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary) to be “players forming one side of a game or contest,” or “two or more persons working together.”  Likewise, teamwork is “the combined action of a team, group, etc., especially when effective or efficient.”  So the commonality of purpose is central to the concept of ‘team’.  The problem with the current situation is that the team has been fractured and the Public Service is being singled out for radical reductions.  What happened to working together as a team and the common purpose?

The military saw the government’s cuts coming and very cleverly, and some may say cynically, shaped the process with General Andrew Leslie’s Report on Transformation.  In a move to forestall major cuts to the uniformed arm of the department, the report claimed that tactical-level units were “our vital ground” and “the idea of reducing the deployable output at [the] tactical level – regular or reserve” would not be further discussed.  The government seems to have bought this incomplete assessment, even though the Canadian army in currently 10,000 people over its established strength.  With the Leslie report primarily blaming growth in the Public Service for budget problems, the ‘bloating’ of the army during the Afghanistan debacle somehow went unnoticed.

Murray Brewster, in an article published on 12 April 2012 and entitled “Budget axe swinging unevenly at DND as military scrambles to keep equipment,” cited a ‘political source’ that said, “the military was loath to give up capabilities.”  So, this means that the transformation report was a complete sham, as the military has no interest at all in change and the target all along was the Public Service.  With a couple of years of budget reductions already in the past, and a number of economy and efficiency reductions under way, there was no way to avoid loosing capabilities unless something could be cut.  That ended up being the Public Service.  When it came down to ‘brass tacks’ the ‘brass hats’ were only too ready to ‘kick the civies out of the lifeboat’.  So much for a ‘team concept’.  The problem is that there is worse to come.

Kathryn May’s article, “Total public service job loss still unknown,” published in the Ottawa Citizen on 17 April, shows that despite the cumulative effect of two previous years of cuts and the current announcement, the government expects that all departments will be required to contribute to an ongoing target of $10B in further savings annually.  Worse yet is the news that a measure in the 2010 budget requires all departments have to absorb any increases on wages, travel, contracts, leases, utilities, supplies or purchasing from within their existing funding limits.  In other words, if you want something more, you’ll have to do without someone else.  The Public Service still has that threat hanging over their heads.

I imagine that the work environment within DND will be truly poisonous going forward.  You can expect work efficiency to drop sharply and contract negotiations to be as adversarial as any in the past, and perhaps even worse. The Defence Team Concept is now dead as a duck on the platter.