Service members and families feeling the pinch from hiring freeze, despite exemptions

The federal hiring freeze doesn’t apply to the military branches, but the top enlisted officials in each service say the service members and leadership are still getting frostbite from the freeze.

Service members are feeling the pinch most from the government’s hiring halt in overseas bases, child development centers and even in their family life. At the same time, military service chiefs are burdened with extra work to keep basic civilian positions filled on bases.

“There is an impact [from the hiring freeze], to be honest about that,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Daily told the House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee during a March 8 hearing.

Online Chat: Beth Killoran, deputy assistant secretary for Information Technology and chief information officer at HHS, on March 28.

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright agreed.

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“Not only do you have an employment issue, but a childcare issue tacked on top of it, this could be really bad for us,” he said.

One of the most publicized impacts is on child development centers (CDCs). Fort Knox in Kentucky and Army Garrison Weisbaden in Germany announced cuts to childcare programs due to the hiring freeze.

The hiring freeze forces the military services to get approval from the highest civilian position, the secretary of the service, in order fill a position at a child care center.

“To this day our acting secretary has already made 3,600 exceptions [to the hiring freeze] just for CDCs alone and over 5,500 exceptions to hire civilians … to fill critical roles on our installations. We are working through each one of them. It is a by-name exception for each one of those,” Daily said.

That means the military service chief must sign off on each individual before he or she can be hired. Daily said the delay for the hiring has been shortened from days to hours.

But, while some CDC positions are now being filling, albeit with the help of top leadership, other areas in the services are feeling the pain of the freeze too.

Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano said the Navy was already having trouble meeting some mission requirements due to budget issues; adding the hiring freeze only conflates the problem. By not hiring civilians, more pressure is put on military workers to finish a job.

“There becomes a change in the workload associated with the military counterparts because we still have to be successful in meeting those mission requirements,” Giordano said.

It’s not only service members that are hurting, it’s also their families.

Military spouses who move overseas with service members have limited options for jobs. Working on-base or for the government was one option.

Right now, the unemployment rate for military spouses is currently at 21 percent, according to the 2016 Annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families.

Giordano said the hiring freeze will hurt military spouses’ employment options.

“I would venture to say that the data would support that the employment rate for spouses within the continental U.S. is much higher than it is for those [stationed] outside the continental U.S.,” Giordano said. “Situations like this will absolutely impact and increase that unfortunate unemployment rate for them.”

Basic housing allowance

One other issue plaguing service members is possible changes to basic allowance for housing (BAH).

The 2017 defense authorization act asks DoD to submit a plan to repeal BAH in favor of a single-salary pay system.

“This would reverse nearly 20 years of deliberate legislative action to ensure service members are appropriately compensated for their service and that their salaries remain competitive with private sector professionals,” Wright’s testimony stated.

Wright told Federal News Radio after the hearing that there are some long term benefits to the single-salary system. Wright said the Air Force would have to educate its force on what the change would mean for them and how they can obtain the appropriate level of housing.

Congress removed a provision in the 2017 NDAA that would have cut BAH for dual military families.