Cover: Expeditionary Civilians

Expeditionary Civilians

Creating a Viable Practice of Civilian Deployment Within the U.S. Interagency Community and Among Foreign Defense Organizations

Published Jun 9, 2016

by Molly Dunigan, Michael Schwille, Susanne Sondergaard, Susan M. Sohler Everingham, Todd Nichols


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Research Questions

  1. What are the requirements that generate the need for deployable civilians in U.S. and foreign organizations that deploy civilians?
  2. What types of missions do deployable civilians support internationally?
  3. What methods do organizations use to identify, select, track, and deploy eligible civilians?

Civilians routinely deploy to support military missions abroad. Internationally, defense departments have drawn on internal civilian capabilities to relieve pressure on the uniformed military, and some of these initiatives have been formalized into organizational structures. There are several known challenges associated with deploying civilians to operational theaters, however. For instance, from where should the capability be drawn? How should deployable civilians be selected, prepared, and protected in theater? How can an organization best manage civilians while they are deployed, ensuring that they will have secure jobs upon their return? Moreover, from a recruitment standpoint, how can an organization ensure a steady pipeline of willing volunteers to deploy? How are civilians perceived by and how do they operate among their military colleagues? An end-to-end review of guidance across the civilian deployment process in the U.S. Department of Defense involved investigating the deployment approaches of analogous organizations, both U.S. and foreign. These comparative cases provided insights into best practices and informed the development of four models of civilian deployment. The effort was supported by interviews with representatives from 17 government agencies in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Australia with well-established civilian deployment programs. This report describes the requirements that generate the need for deployable civilians, the types of missions civilians support, and the methods that organizations use to identify, select, track, and deploy civilians. Findings from the full study can be found in the companion RAND report, Expeditionary Civilians: Creating a Viable Practice of Department of Defense Civilian Deployment.

Key Findings

Organizations Tend to Use One or a Combination of Four Models to Deploy Civilians

  • Reactive internal sourcing involves identifying a requirement, which triggers a recruitment process internal to the organization. Deployable civilians are selected and undergo any necessary training or preparation. After returning from deployment, civilians return to the post they held prior to deploying.
  • Proactive internal sourcing involves selecting individuals for deployment from a pool of eligible civilians. This readiness pool is available to respond to requirements that might emerge.
  • Reactive external sourcing involves identifying a requirement and recruiting deployable civilians externally in response. An outside expert is then hired and, after returning from deployment, is no longer affiliated with the organization.
  • Proactive external sourcing involves identifying deployable civilians outside the organization to meet a set of forecasted requirements. When a requirement matches the capabilities of a particular individual, he or she is notified of the need to deploy, at which point his or her pay and benefits are activated.

Management of Civilian Deployment Capabilities Generally Must Consider Three Priority Areas: Policy, Planning and Strategy, and Operations

  • On a policy level, processes for deploying civilians require balancing readiness with cost and boosting understanding of deployable civilian capabilities among military commanders.
  • In terms of planning and strategy, organizations must balance the need for quick deployments with the need to sustain a set of deployable capabilities.
  • In terms of operations, the extent to which an organization centralizes management of civilian deployment processes determines the speed, budget, capability, and resources that it requires.


  • Organizations should champion expeditionary civilian capabilities. Militaries may be unaware of the benefits of drawing on civilian capabilities.
  • Organizations should craft their own structure for civilian deployments, tailored to their specific needs.
  • Organizations should assess their recruitment processes to ensure that priorities in terms of mission needs and timeliness are being met.
  • Organizations should dedicate resources to planning and forecasting future requirements to optimize the organizational design associated with civilian deployments.
  • Organizations should determine the level at which to manage the processes governing civilian deployments.
  • Organizations should identify opportunities to pool resources and share existing capabilities for civilian deployments, for example by establishing centers based on geographic location or specific functions.
  • Future research should focus on developing improved planning and forecasting models and on practical aspects of civilian deployments, such as safety, operating with military personnel, performance metrics, pre- and postdeployment stress evaluations, and the psychological impact of deployments.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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