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Research Questions

  1. Which statutes and policies govern performance of work by military service members, government civilian employees, and contractors? What guidance do they provide?
  2. What patterns, if any, characterize the most recent wave of military-to-civilian conversions, which occurred between fiscal years 2004 and 2012?
  3. What were the primary impediments to converting military positions to government civilian positions? Why were so few military-to-civilian conversions undertaken?
  4. What lessons from past experience with converting military positions can inform future efforts to employ this force management tool?
  5. What changes to statutes, policies, and/or business practices would facilitate military-to-civilian conversions?

This report summarizes research on recent patterns in military-to-civilian conversion — that is, converting military positions to government civilian positions — to identify the primary impediments to such conversions. While Section 129(a) of Title 10 of the United States Code directs the Secretary of Defense to determine the "most appropriate and cost efficient mix" of personnel required to accomplish the U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD's) mission, a variety of constraints make it difficult to achieve that goal. RAND's assessment drew on three lines of analysis: (1) a review of statutes and policies governing performance of work by military service members, government civilian employees, and contractors; (2) an analysis of administrative data on DoD military and civilian personnel covering the most recent wave of military-to-civilian conversions (fiscal years 2004–2012); and (3) discussions with subject matter experts across DoD. The RAND team concluded that there is considerable opportunity to identify positions suitable for military-to-civilian conversion. However, there are also numerous impediments to authorizing and executing these conversions. The report offers recommendations for changes to statutes, policies, and business practices that would facilitate military-to-civilian conversions and motivate greater use of this force management tool, should that be DoD's goal.

Key Findings

There Is Considerable Opportunity to Identify Positions Suitable for Military-to-Civilian Conversion

  • Almost half of military personnel vacate their positions every year, and there are several occupations that have been largely civilianized by one service but not by other services.
  • Substitution ratios of 70 percent appear to be feasible, on average. Between fiscal years 2004 and 2012, it was common for approximately seven government civilians to move into positions that were previously held by ten military service members.

But There Are Numerous Impediments to Authorizing and Executing Military-to-Civilian Conversions

  • A few statutes and policies preclude conversions, even when the conversions can be shown to be cost-effective. These include Section 701 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, Section 955 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, and civilian full-time equivalent ceilings imposed by the U.S. Department of Defense.
  • Funds covering military personnel are managed at the service level, while funds covering government civilians are managed at the installation level. Consequently, installation commanders regard military personnel as free from cost. Moreover, installations that propose conversions risk losing military personnel without securing the means to hire new civilians.
  • Some conversions that are planned and authorized are not executed. Root causes include the two-year lag between the time when conversions are programmed and budgeted and the time when funds are appropriated, the sluggishness and rigidity of the civilian hiring process, and general confusion about the process for executing authorized conversions.


  • Repeal the prohibition on converting medical and dental positions.
  • Amend Section 955 to exclude increases in civilian personnel funding that result from cost-effective military-to-civilian conversions.
  • Relax the civilian full-time equivalent ceilings to exclude civilian positions arising from cost-effective conversions.
  • Develop clearer, more precise definitions for the military essential criteria.
  • Issue practical guidance addressing the process for executing authorized conversions.
  • Develop a clear definition of military-to-civilian conversion and stipulate that data reporting across the services be consistent with that definition.
  • Amend the programming and budgeting processes to permit installations to tie the surrender of a military position to a compensating increase in operation and maintenance funds.
  • Reduce the time between authorization and execution of conversions.
  • Conduct an assessment of the local market for civilian labor before authorizing conversions.
  • Leverage personnel data to identify occupations or installations that could yield additional conversions.
  • Improve and standardize data collection on contracts for services.
  • Ensure that estimates of the cost savings associated with military-to-civilian conversions reflect substitution ratios that are feasible in practice.
  • Plan for increased resistance to conversions if the conversions are designed to reduce military end strength.

This research was 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 United Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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