Department of Defense Joint Program in Communications

Outsourcing Military Public Affairs

Public Affairs professionals like this Air Force PA noncommissioned officer may face a growing number of outsourced civilian co-workers. The Department of Defense can smooth the transition of new outsourced PA civilians by applying communication theories presented in this article.

Outsourcing Military Public Affairs


The face of United States military public affairs is changing rapidly. Increased workloads coupled with shrinking budgets and forces have changed the mission and structure of public affairs offices around the world. As military public affairs redefines the way it does business, issues of streamlining and globally-integrated operations have become primary considerations on a daily basis.

Change is not unique to public affairs. It affects all U.S. military components. The goal is to find ways to save money so as to increase the capability to modernize. This paper explores outsourcing - a method of generating savings that is being scrutinized throughout the military. The exploration will detail how military public affairs can enhance the success of outsourcing its functions.

Outsourcing is nothing new for the military. It has been successfully used for years by the U.S. military. Outsourced projects include Air Force contracts for maintenance on KC-10's and KC-135's; Army upgrades to the Palladin artillery system; and Navy use of civilian shipyard facilities. The Department of Defense outsources about 25 percent of the work related to maintenance of military installations (DOD, 1996).

As part of the outsourcing process, an A-76 study must be completed. This provides a cost analysis comparison between Department of Defense capabilities and commercial contracting services. According to past A-76 studies, more than $1.4 billion was saved between 1978 and 1994 as a direct result of outsourcing. Overall, outsourcing has reduced annual Department of Defense operating costs by 31 percent (DOD, 1996).

Outsourcing and its impact on military installations will continue to be a controversial topic in the future. By 1999, the Department of Defense intends to identify all military and civilian Department of Defense workforce functions that are eligible for the A-76 study. Civilian pay, military retiree and annuitant pay, personnel services and drug testing are among areas currently under consideration for evaluation (DOD, 1997).

Exemptions from this review include inherently governmental positions within the military; those which contribute directly to combat or direct combat support, are required by law to be military or are not available in the private sector (Air Force, 1998).

Since military public affairs may be among those outsourced, this paper will explore four theories that should be considered with the outsourcing of military public affairs offices.

The first theory, structurational theory of climate, explains methods of evaluating military public affairs offices, as well as the expectations of the installation people who interact with staff members. The second theory, organizational assimilation theory, will be incorporated to demonstrate the process of bringing a new worker into an organization. Uncertainty reduction theory, the third theory, is an interpersonal look at initial interactions between civilian contractors and Department of Defense personnel. This theory will help show that reducing uncertainty is key in developing an effective work relationship. Finally, anxiety uncertainty management theory describes what may happen when two cultures interact with the intent of developing an effective working relationship.


For the purposes of this discussion, the term Department of Defense includes Department of Defense civilians and active duty military members. Outsourcing refers to the use of commercial civilian firms or individuals. As part of the research, military public affairs professionals participated in a convenience sample study.

Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force were among the respondents, with representation from both officers and noncommissioned officers. The participants had a mean of 12.72 years of military service and a mean of 9.72 years of public affairs experience. Participants were asked their views on outsourcing military public affairs functions. The survey yielded some surprising results. One hundred percent of the respondents felt that functions within public affairs could be outsourced.

Newspapers and community relations were the two functions receiving the most support for outsourcing. Most respondents indicated that a uniformed public affairs and media relations officer should be maintained in each military public affairs office. Nearly all indicated that outsourcing would be best phased in over a period of time. Internal information was proposed as the first to be outsourced, followed by community relations. Although the participants in this survey indicated that only specific functions within any military public affairs office should be outsourced, a study of the office as an organization and the climate of that organization as it relates to the military as a whole must be done in order to effectively and efficiently assimilate corporate personnel as members of the military public affairs team.

Application of the structurational theory of climate will assist in explaining how individual service members interact within the military environment and how that interaction effects the organization as a whole. The convenience sample is an indication that already there would be some acceptance to oursourcing of military public affairs functions.

Structurational Theory of Climate

The structurational theory of climate stipulates that although people create and maintain organizations, the organizations end up having a life and identity of their own (Poole & McPhee, 1983). The climate within an organizational system is produced and maintained by the social interaction system rather than individually (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997).

According to Poole and McPhee (1983), in order to define climate, a number of findings must be taken into account. Perception of climate may not be consistent throughout an organization. Different hierarchical levels as well as subunits within the organization will have different climates and perceive the climates as different.

Within an aviation squadron, perceptions of climate will naturally differ between subunits such as maintenance departments, safety departments and administrative departments. As a climate is initially produced by the organization, climates within a particular organization will be tied to the concerns and transactions of the organization.

Operationalizing climates is difficult, as the climate must first be untangled from other related constructs such as leadership and job satisfaction within the organization (Poole & McPhee, 1983). Two important constructs within the structurational theory of climate are structures and social systems (Infante et al., 1997).

Structures can be defined as resources, rules, and norms used in interaction. An example of this which is found within the military would be deference to an individual of higher rank. Social systems are observable results which are created when members of an organization apply structures. An example of this would be an individual arriving at work at the designated time and not departing for the day prior to checking with the supervisor to ensure that the day's objectives have been met.

According to Poole and McPhee (1983), there are four layers of structure. These include system patterns, practical structures, background structures and collective attitudes. System patterns consist of the observable relationships found within an organization; for example a communication network. The rules and resources governing interaction within the organization are called practical structures and rules and resources giving meaning to the practical structures are called background structures.

Generalized group conceptions about the organization or social system are collective attitudes (Infante et al., 1997). The character and identity of the organization is determined by the relationships among these four levels. Adequate assimilation into an organization would naturally include introduction to the layers of structure. It naturally follows that these layers will vary from organization to organization.

For example, the system patterns, structures and attitudes found within a charitable organization will differ greatly from those found within the military. A primary step in implementing the outsourcing of public affairs in the military includes research to determine the current climate within the organization in order to effectively assimilate outsiders into the job.

There are a number of difficulties which may arise during the process of outsourcing. In identifying and addressing these difficulties prior to the implementation of outsourcing programs, adequate training and familiarization can ease the transition. By utilizing the structurational theory of climate it is possible to see structures and systems within military public affairs.

The importance of some of these structures and systems to the military and military public affairs as an organization makes it necessary to introduce an outsourced member to their meanings and history in order to ease that individual's integration into the organization in much the same way a new enlistee must be introduced.

Examples of this include the military rank structure and its significance, military administrative procedures, and history or tradition within branches of the military. A thorough analysis of system patterns, practical structures, background structures and collective attitude within military public affairs will be necessary to pinpoint all areas of concern and address them adequately prior to attempting to outsource areas of the organization.

Organizational Assimilation

Mapping out the next 20 years of military public affairs will necessarily involve the consideration of outsourcing, at a minimum, pieces of the current military public affairs puzzle. To remain efficient and successful, public affairs' strategic planners must consider rethinking how much of the force must remain in uniform as well as the costs associated with "staying the course."

Organizational assimilation theory describes how communication affects a workers' job from childhood to retirement. In this application, it dissects the processes of becoming a member of an organization. The jump from one job to another always creates feelings for uneasiness and tension among the employee and the employer.

A move into the complex and often-misunderstood culture of the military requires increased awareness of potential pitfalls and misfirings. The application of this theory should ease some of the concerns of new workers as they begin working in the new environment of the U.S. military and enhance the process of assimilation. Jablin (1987) has developed a model of organizational entry, assimilation and exit. Rather than focusing solely on the entry process, Jablin examines the socialization and longitudinal communication process.

Moreover, organizational socialization strategies through which organizations socialize newcomers and the assimilation focus covers individual perspectives and strategies as they individualize their roles within the corporate culture. Outsourcing, according to Minoli (1995), is a new term for an old idea. The consideration is basically simple: If an outside party can do the work more efficiently and inexpensively than can the organization, then the outside party ought to do it; if the organization's employees can do the job better, then the work ought to remain in-house.

Organizations are moving toward a more "federated" structure: They want to concentrate on what they are good at, their core business, and leave the rest to somebody else. Organizations are evolving in terms of where they are going, their strategy and what is required of their people and of their communication.

Any communication strategy developed today will need revisited tomorrow, and the review of communication should be a continual process rather than an occasional event (Quirke, 1995). The U.S. military is, by nature, quite adept at incremental change, but rather slow to embrace broad-sweeping ideological metamorphoses.

This research assumes, as with many other military career fields, that outsourcing is merely a matter of time and the better prepared offices are to handle it, the smoother the transition will occur. Jablin and Miller (1990) identified four stages to becoming an organizational member. This model also looks at how employees influence the organization and how the organization influences them.

Corporate cultures differ widely and a jump into the military way of life can be startling. Jargon, uniforms, rank structures, readiness exercises and actual deployments are facets of a military public affairs shop that contrast starkly with a civilian-equivalent public relation office. This model stresses organizational structures and processes (socialization, individualization).

The first stage deals with vocational socialization. During this phase, future employees receive information about the job they will undertake. Early exposure to the military forms ideas and notions that are carried and evolved into attitudes. This information comes from a variety of sources including family, media and peers.

One aspect of current public affairs operations is that of image building for respective services. The success of these programs individually will serve to form positive attitudes toward working with the military in the future. Anticipatory socialization is the second stage. Here the process of job seeking and preparation for entering the new organization begins.

Most of the information will come from one of two sources. Either the organization itself will provide the information or the applicant gets information from interviewers, teachers or organizational employees. During outsourcing negotiations, this process will cover both the organization hired to outsource and the individuals themselves.

Contract talks will supply the bidding companies all required information and individuals will become informed through their parent companies. The crux of organizational assimilation lies with encounter, the third stage. This is the critical indoctrination period where workers feel stress over the disparity between the work environment and individual expectations.

Often, there is a huge organizational and ideological chasm between military and civilian modes of operation. Inevitably, the new work atmosphere will not match the new employees' expectations perfectly. Role shock may ensue within the first few weeks or months on the job. When expectations and reality match closely, role surprise may occur.

Training and indoctrination classes are required to help acculturate the new workers into their foreign environment. Equally important though, is the requirement to overcome resistance to change from within the military. According to Miller, Johnson and Grau (1994), resistance to organizational change can be expressed through reduction of output, quarreling and hostility, work slowdowns, and pessimism regarding proposed improvements (Lawrence, 1958).

Resistance is attributed to forces of individual inertia, political coalitions, departmental and individual investment in the status quo, existing cultural values and norms and lack of motivation for altering behaviors (Miller, Johnson, & Grau, 1994). Miller, Johnson and Grau (1994) identify two competing theoretical perspectives concerning the relationship between job characteristics and affective responses.

The Job Characteristics Model (JCM) suggests that employees evaluate job characteristics in light of their individual, enduring need-states. For example, the higher autonomy needs of an employee, the higher anticipation of acceptance if the reorganization allows for tasks to be prioritized by the employee.

The Social Information Processing Model (SIP) contrasts the JCM by suggesting that job attitudes do not correspond to enduring needs and job characteristics. Rather, the available information influencing employees' perceptions of their needs and job characteristics is the driving force. Current research indicates that both JCM and SIP factors contribute to the formation of individuals' attitudes.

When organizations are implementing change, employees reporting that "no one ever tells me anything" are also likely to feel that prior information has not been helpful and thus, they are likely to be unreceptive to organizational change. In this light information dissemination and open lines of communication are imperative. The fourth, and final phase in the theory of organizational assimilation is metamorphosis.

Over time, the worker and the organization begin to influence each other more equally. Employees feel more comfortable in expressing feelings and trying to create a better fit between organizational roles and their individual needs. Conflicts become less frequent and most have settled into a mode of high-efficiency operation.

There has always been a disconnect, however slight, between communication among military and civilian supervisors and subordinates. In terms of organizational effectiveness, supervisor-subordinate communication involves sharing. They may share trust and respect; but perhaps most importantly they share the feeling that each understands the other (Cahn, 1986).

Uncertainty Reduction Theory

Outsourcing public affairs assets will no doubt make a lot of military members nervous even though there may be a viable assimilation program in place. It's not the traditional way of operating. New people who are not uniformed and have new ideas will be working in a strict, disciplined society bound by loyalty and traditions.

The basic target for smoothing this transition will be the individual involved in the initial integration of the outsourced civilians. The civilians and the military members will undoubtedly be apprehensive and unsure about trust, agendas, background and skills of the their new co-workers. It is only natural that a primary focus should be on these individuals and ways to ease this transition by building faith, decreasing uncertainty and develop loyalty, confidence and dedication.

The key theory to our defining and ensuring the successful and smooth assimilation of outsourced Public Affairs civilians is the uncertainty reduction theory (URT) (Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Berger 1979). The URT is based on a simple assumption -- that when strangers meet, they want to reduce the uncertainty about each other.

The underlying goal in this process is that reducing the uncertainty will increase the ability to predict both parties behavior and ease tension in future meetings. This theory will prove especially useful as both civilians and military embark on a new work relationship and both will have to reduce the uncertainty for a successful partnership.

Berger and Calabrese (1975) described three stages of interactions that must be addressed in order to accomplish this goal -- the entry, personal and exit phases. The entry phase is the initial step, which accounts for the sharing of basic information such as, in this case, basic operating procedures, military traditions, history and new employee backgrounds.

The personal phase is the next step and it encompasses the sharing of attitudes, beliefs and values, as well as personal and more detailed information. The exit phase is the step where both parties begin to determine the direction the relationship will take. Individual differences in new employees and military members are accounted for in the theory. Each person learns and accepts rules and norms at a different pace through direct instruction or social modeling (Berger & Calabrese, 1975; Berger, 1979).

The increase and steady contact between both parties provides for ample opportunity for individuals to learn and accept at their own pace with out disrupting the integration process. One component of URT that directly applies is the affect that frequency of contact will have on the successful integration of outsourced PA civilians into the military system.

Berger and Calabrese (1975) rationalize that frequent contact can lead to increased understanding of each other's beliefs, expectations, opinions and behavior. As both sides will be working regularly and side-by-side in potentially crucial and high-pressure situations, it is necessary for these initial contacts to increase understanding and allow the development of interdependence.

The application of this theory will involve determining which methods and integration training models will be most effective in assisting this process. Adapting the URT to similar programs designed to assist new military family members, officers, enlisted and civilians will improve those designs and target the outsourced public affairs civilian and ensure their transition is smooth.

Because the military will be initializing this program, it falls upon it to design, structure and support an integration program that will reduce uncertainty of the new employees and allow military members to accept these "outsiders" into the organization as full members.

Anxiety Uncertainty Management

The uncertainty reduction theory will have an important role in the acceptance of the outsourcing of public affairs because it impacts the interpersonal aspects of relationships.

It is also important because it provided a means for research for another theory that was developed by Gudykunst over a period of years for an intercultural perspective called anxiety uncertainty management theory (as cited in Infante et al., 1997).

Studies prior to the formation of this theory show the relevance of the intercultural aspect. In one of the first looks at uncertainty reduction theory, Gudykunst and Nishida (1984) studied the influence of such factors as attitude and culture on initial interactions.

As a result of the study, Gudykunst and Nishida (1984) concluded that attitudes influenced attractions, but not uncertainty reduction. The two researchers also concluded that culture affected uncertainty reduction strategies, but not necessarily attraction.

Gudykunst (1985) expanded the study by looking specifically at the effects of culture similarity/dissimilarity and type of relationship on factors such as communication network and attitude similarity. Gudykunst concluded both cultural similarity/dissimilarity and relationship type influence uncertainty reduction and interact to further impact on the process.

Over several years, other factors were explored. In 1986, Gudykunst, Nishida, Koike, and Shiino looked at effects of language between interactions between high and low context cultures. In that same year, Gudykunst and Nishida did a study of perceptions of levels of relationships, i.e., friend, acquaintanceship, and how they influenced interpersonal development. Gudykunst, Chua, and Gray (1987) then expanded the study to account for the changes in a relationship between different cultures over time and how culture played less of a role in the uncertainty reduction process.

In 1989, Gudykunst looked at cultures with individualistic and collective attitudes and how predictability played a key role in forming relationships. From these earlier studies, Gudykunst (as cited in Infante et al., 1997) expanded research to include cultures as a means of describing intercultural communications.

Gudykunst's anxiety uncertainty management theory (as cited in Infante et al.) has evolved over the past 13 years to current coverage of intercultural communications to help explain the actions of different cultures to communicate effectively. It is appropriate to consider outsourcing from an intercultural perspective, especially in light of the fact that the military is a culture.

This can be claimed in the sense that the military is very traditional and has a unique place within American society. Over the past two hundred years, the military has developed much of its thoughts and actions, not unlike other cultures which develop over time. The military has a language unknown by some, with acronyms such as TDY and PCS, meaning temporary duty and permanent change of station, respectively.

Even when spelled out, someone unfamiliar with the military may be unaware that the words relate to everyday travel occurrences within the military. Values are important to the military as well. It is often the intangibles of military heritage and tradition within the different services that make service members ready to die for their country.

Instilled value is also important when it comes to explaining why service members may feel proud to do their jobs even in intense environments such as the battlefield. It is within this context of the American military culture that the anxiety uncertainty management theory will have to be considered in the acceptance of outsourcing public affairs.

When bringing in someone unfamiliar with the military, a new language as well as the traditions behind the military have to be learned by the newcomer. The military will have to adapt as well. Instead of having military public affairs people writing installation base newspaper stories or escorting civilian news media, military people will find a contracted agency performing the many details of public affairs work.

Application of the anxiety uncertainty management theory should help with the acceptance of outsourcing of public affairs. The theory shows a relationship that demonstrates that once two cultures try to communicate, certain factors will influence people's uncertainty and anxiety during the communication process.

However, the theory is casual based and explains effective communications (as cited in Infante et al., 1997). Solution Reducing the uncertainty during the initial stage of integration is vital. If civilians or military members are not assimilated into the structure completely and effectively, the new system will fail. Because the civilians are the outsiders to the organization, they will be expected to learn, understand and accept many of the military's traditions, practices and procedures.

In the past, the military has dealt with this indoctrination with new soldiers, new family members and government civilians. Soldiers usually get an "in-your-face" treatment of assimilation, where during the initial entry phase they undergo eight-weeks of basic training and additional skills training for extended lengths of time.

The military applies URT for these soldiers during change of station moves and arrival at new assignments. According to regulation, service members are expected to get a sponsor and a welcome briefing, as well as several days of inprocessing upon arrival. This inprocessing and sponsor support allows new soldiers and unit members to learn about each other and initialize the assimilation into the new assignment.

Civilians and family members generally get a more simplified version of indoctrination, less hectic and more "user-friendly." The Army's Family Team Building Program (AFTB) is one example. New family members at Army posts are encouraged to sign up and attend a variety of classes that range from understanding acronyms to organizational structure.

These classes are taught by experienced family members and soldiers to provide an overview of the Army and a general idea of what their spouses lives are like away from home. A revamped AFTB course would be ideal for outsourced public affairs civilians.

With the application of uncertainty reduction theory, apprehension of new civilians can be lowered and institutional knowledge increased through a "mini-boot camp" type of course. This course would be short, semi-intense peek inside the military. New civilians would be exposed to basic jargon, unit history, rules and expectations.

Unit commanders would be included in the classes and would allow the civilians to interact with future co-workers. Communication is key. Employees need this type of communication in order to understand their new environment and their role in it (Jablin & Krone, 1994).

This understanding provides the civilian with a base knowledge and allows the military to establish its concern for the new employee's welfare, rights and expectations. These are all vital parts of ensuring employee satisfaction with the job and the organization, according to Gorden, Anderson and Bruning, (1992).

During and after the course, new employees would be teamed with a military sponsor to serve as a guide to the interpersonal workings of the organization. The sponsor should normally be someone assigned to organization where the new civilian will be working.

The sponsor will set up office calls with key officials, detail organization goals, standards and mission, and provide the civilian with a personal view into this new world. The office calls, the personal interaction with the military member, and the "mini-boot camp" are all opportunities for the civilian and the military to reduce initial stress and uncertainty about expectations, goals and missions.

It is vital that the military implement some type of "welcome aboard" program. New civilians, most of whom may not have any military experience, must have some working knowledge of their employers. The unique mission and history of the military requires individuals who are dedicated, loyal and committed to meeting unit goals.

The civilians must accept this responsibility and the military must accept responsibility for nurturing this dedication and commitment over time. The initial integration is vital, but refresher courses and training about the military can ensure that the civilian feels "inside" and not "outside" the military team. In addition to the initial working relationship, a strong assimilation process is also needed.

Military services will have to develop or adapt existing plans for bringing in new civilian workers. The organizational assimilation theory explains the process of new workers into a new work environment, but it will up to the military services to have an effective program that ensures a smooth transition.

Albrecht and Hall (1991) state the success of any new idea is due in part to the discussions to bring about innovations. A thorough analysis of the climate within military public affairs offices will be necessary to create a successful plan. As the structurational theory of climate suggests (Poole & McPhee, 1983), climates vary from organization to organization.

To build a strong foundation for initial training and implementation of successful communication practices the current climate of military public affairs must be accurately ascertained. Part of the assimilation plan should include the intercultural aspects of the interactions between the civilians and the military. Anxiety uncertainty management theory describes the potential interaction between civilians and the possible adaptations that must be made in the military culture.

However, as the theory explains, clear communication between cultures is necessary for an effective flow of information (as cited in Infante et al., 1997). A willingness to communicate by both civilians and military members will also be key in the success of bringing in new members of the workforce (Richmond & Roach, 1992).


If it is determined that outsourcing a team or individual will be more efficient and less expensive to the military services, outsourcing will eventually be attempted. Once thorough studies by the military have been done into all aspects of outsourcing public affairs, smooth implementation can occur through adaptation of the theories discussed here.

Initially, the current climate within public affairs offices must be determined so as to successfully develop and execute adequate training programs for outsourced public affairs professionals. Potential problems must be brought to the forefront as early in the process as possible.

Effective communication between civilian and military personnel will only occur through a shared feeling that each understands the other (Cahn, 1986). Reducing uncertainty between parties will be instrumental in this process. This will occur with implementation of shared communication skills throughout the entry, personal, and exit stages of interaction, as defined by Berger and Calabrese (1975 and Berger, 1979).

In addition, increased understanding will come about through more frequent contact with one another. Adapting programs similar to those designed to assist new military personnel and their family members will aide in ensuring a smooth transition for outsourced personnel. Although many aspects of the military have already been successfully outsourced, the outsourcing of public affairs brings with it a new angle.

By virtue of their title, these individuals will be a direct link between the public and the military. As such, it is vital that they comprehend and embrace aspects of the military such as its tradition, procedures, and practices. A look into how these military units have outsourced can be something that military public affairs people can do as part of any plans.

Since theories used in this paper are meant to enhance the success of outsourcing, seeing how other military units are currently doing business can very well help in the understanding of how non Defense Department people can work effectively in a military environment. In addition, military public affairs office can also explore whether civilian corporations are currently outsourcing their information programs.

If civilian companies are having an outside agency perform some of their corporate messages, some vital components of a successful program can be learned. Applying that knowledge should be helpful in reducing uncertainties because it will demonstrate that organizations can bring in outside agencies to operate similar functions that military public affairs people currently do, such as news releases and community relations tours.

While it is expected that early outsourcing public affairs functions may encounter some difficulties, if only getting used to the new process, it is suggested that clear records be kept that other public affairs people can access. Since services may vary in their outsourcing efforts, having the ability to see how other services are doing business could enhance other public affairs offices of strengthening their own outsourcing efforts.

Having information easily available, such as on the Internet, could be helpful for all military service public affairs. The ease of gaining insights could be useful in modifying a service unique requirement and could limit the amount of work in putting a plan together. Inasmuch as outsourcing military public affairs functions could effect many organizations, the possibility is there for some resistance for a successful plan for those people who may have difficulty in interacting with an outside organization.

However, the prospects are good for successful outsourcing, but it will take some effort. Gudykunst and colleagues (as cited in Infante et al., 1997) are interested in further expansion of the anxiety uncertainty management theory into how conscious effort can enhance effective communication.

Future research should support the conclusion that effort will play a key consideration for the success of outsourcing of public affairs. However, if earlier studies are an indication (Gudykunst and Nishida, 1984, 1986; Gudykunst et al., 1986; Gudykunst et al., 1987; Gudykunst, 1989), two different cultures can communicate effectively and have a positive relationship.


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