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Research Questions

  1. What are the goals of DoD's civilian deployment capability, and where are there gaps between policy and practice?
  2. What are combatant commands' perspectives on utilization of expeditionary civilians? What are their requirements and anticipated needs for expeditionary civilians, and how do they translate to manpower and skill requirements for deployable DoD civilians?
  3. What lessons and insights from analogous organizations in the United States and other countries can benefit DoD civilian deployment practice?

U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 1404.10 (2009) mandates a reliance on military and civilian capabilities to meet national security requirements and requires the identification of a subset of civilians to be organized, trained, and equipped to respond to expeditionary requirements. DoD policy on expeditionary civilians has yet to be fully implemented, however. This end-to-end review and analysis of DoD civilian deployment aims to inform DoD's policy and practice for using deployable civilians to meet mission needs ten to 20 years into the future. It assesses the viability of DoD's civilian deployment framework in meeting its current policy goals, identifies gaps between policy and practice, and proposes a systematic approach to developing and maintaining a civilian deployment capability that meets the current and future needs of U.S. combatant commands. The findings and conclusions are informed by a detailed policy review and interviews with more than 80 officials from organizations that deploy civilians, including DoD, the military services, the combatant commands, and analogous U.S. and foreign government agencies. The study was the first to review in detail combatant command requirements for expeditionary civilian capabilities. Looking ahead, lessons and insights from analogous organizations' approaches to civilian deployment could inform DoD civilian deployment policy and practice.

Key Findings

DoD Civilian Deployment Practice Does Not Always Align with Policy Goals

  • The impetus for establishing a DoD's civilian expeditionary workforce was to fill low-density, high-demand positions not easily filled by the uniformed military. In practice, expeditionary civilians have been used to reduce stress on the uniformed military, reduce the military's reliance on contractors, and circumvent limits on the deployment of additional uniformed military personnel.
  • DoD policy guidance states a preference for expeditionary civilians when available and cost-effective. However, uncertainty about the nature and scale of future contingencies could shift this priority.
  • There are few incentives to encourage home offices to allow their civilians to deploy in support of other DoD organizations. These offices must pay the civilian's salary while he or she is deployed and may need to backfill these positions and reintegrate the civilian upon return.
  • There are also few incentives for civilians to volunteer to deploy. Doing so may hinder their career progression.

DoD's Civilian Deployment Concept Requires Modifications to Endure

  • U.S. Central Command is the largest requestor of expeditionary civilians. Other combatant commands were less aware of the potential benefits of this workforce, perceived civilians as an unreliable labor source, or did not see a need for these capabilities.
  • There has been little formal analysis comparing the cost to deploy a civilian with the cost to deploy military personnel or contractors. A better understanding of these relative costs across DoD would help policymakers and other officials determine the best circumstances under which to deploy civilians.


  • DoD should champion expeditionary civilian capabilities, investing in efforts to raise awareness of the potential benefits among top officials and establishing award programs to recognize civilians for their service.
  • DoD should establish joint oversight of its expeditionary civilian workforce to help ensure enterprise-wide visibility of demand for these capabilities and the availability of deployable civilians to meet ongoing and emerging requirements.
  • As DoD plans for the future, it should pursue a combination of sourcing models for civilian deployment. Maintaining a pool of prequalified candidates will help it respond to quick-turn requirements, while identifying candidates as needs arise will provide greater flexibility. Candidates could come from both within and outside DoD.
  • To determine the best uses for expeditionary civilians, DoD should work to accurately forecast potential mission requirements and assess the relative costs of deploying civilians, as opposed to military or contractor personnel.

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 Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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