Federal officials could save almost $6 billion a year by shifting tens of thousands of military jobs to civilian employees, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office.

Researchers estimate that up to 80,000 retail supply jobs across the services could be performed as effectively and likely cheaper by nonmilitary personnel, whose benefits and training demands add significantly to overall costs.

"On average, a civilian in DoD's commercial positions costs the federal government … about 30 percent less on an annualized basis than a military service member in similar occupations," the report said. "Total costs to the federal government would decline if DoD transferred commercial positions to civilians and cut military end strength by that same number."

CBO officials estimate the typical civilian federal employee costs about $96,000 annually. Troops' pay, benefits and training total closer to $135,000 on average.

The proposed savings come not just through military offerings — GI Bill benefits, retirement payouts, family support programs — but also through long-term reductions in Department of Veterans Affairs benefits and changes to other agencies with veteran-focused programs.

The report also said that for some positions, a shift to civilian employees "can offer more stability and experience than military personnel, who must periodically change jobs."

But CBO officials warn that such a move "could reduce (the Defense Department's) ability to rapidly increase the number of troops when it is engaging in combat operations."

The analysis does not factor what transferring those support jobs could mean for troops' career advancement, or if such jobs would be more valuable for force morale as temporary stops "for service members who have been assigned overseas or aboard ship."

Still, the ideas are likely to gain some interest on Capitol Hill, especially in light of Pentagon officials' repeated calls to trim pay and benefits programs to protect other modernization and upkeep priorities.

The full report is available on CBO's website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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