Furloughs Impact Navy Voluntary Education Support
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The Virtual Education Center (VEC) and all Navy College Offices (NCOs) are closed each Friday during the Defense Department furlough of civilian employees this fiscal year, said officials at the Center for Personal and Professional Development July 18.
The VEC and NCOs worldwide are staffed by government civilians, who began furloughs of one day per week in early July for 11 weeks.
During this period, the VEC is open to serve customers Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern Time. NCOs are generally open Monday through Thursday with hours varying by location.
"Closing NCOs on Friday has the least impact on Sailors and our support to the fleet," said Jon Richardson, who works for CPPD as Voluntary Education Regional Director West. "Many local commands schedule in-house activities for Fridays. Also, the majority of our academic institutions that provide on-base, instructor-led programs do not schedule classes on Friday."
School representatives cannot be on base or offer instruction if an NCO representative isn't available unless specific permission is granted by the host command, he said. Visiting academic institutions and counselors/advisors have adjusted schedules and are available Monday through Thursday, matching NCO work schedules.
The workload of voluntary education staffs cannot be picked up by contractors, who are not allowed to advise Sailors on using tuition assistance, which allocates government resources for their education. Additionally, a memo regarding civilian furloughs from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management dated June 28 stipulates that government civilian workloads cannot be shifted to contractors to compensate for productivity loss as a result of the furlough.
While Richardson said it is too early to foresee all the impacts of these office closures on Sailors, one he anticipates is an increase in waiting time for customers. "Since we've only been closed one Friday, the real business impact is unknown. It appears the number of Sailors visiting NCOs has increased during our open hours. That could be hiccup, but we won't know until we have more data."
Wait times for VEC customers may also rise, according to Sharen Richardson, VEC supervisor. "We encourage Sailors to do a few things to lessen the impact of the reduced hours," she said. "First, ensure you submit your Tuition Assistance (TA) request up to 30 days prior to your class start date. Then track it to ensure your command approves and forwards it to the VEC with enough time for staff to review and authorize it."
She said Sailors who wait too long to submit their TA request may not be able to begin a class on time. "Don't start a class without an approved TA voucher in hand," Richardson said. "We can't process a TA request after a school's advertised add/drop date, so it's the Sailor's responsibility to follow up with his or her command to track that TA request."
Sailors wanting to speak to a VEC advisor should be aware that the high-volume call times are primarily between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Time, she added.
Along with TA, another impact to Sailors resulting from the VEC closure is an increase in processing time for requests for Joint Services Transcripts (JSTs) and changes to JSTs, including updates and adding degrees from schools, according to VEC Evening Shift Manager Emmett Williams. "We have a lot of requests and messages to go through each Monday, and we're doing our best to respond to each customer as quickly as possible," he said. "The best time for Sailors to contact the VEC for assistance is Monday through Thursday between 6 and 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Eastern Time," he said.
For Navy College Offices, Jon Richardson advises calling ahead to confirm hours of operation and possibly scheduling an appointment.
Capt. John Newcomer, CPPD's commanding officer, said that while voluntary education staff members are working to lessen the impact on Sailors as much as possible, there will be unavoidable effects. "We ask Sailors to please bear with us during this time. Be proactive and give the same level of planning to your education as you do to your career advancement. Working together, we'll meet the mission to provide Sailors with the best possible service to help them pursue their lifelong educational goals."