BREMERTON -- Tom Bartz Jr. had intended to begin work this Monday at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The recently retired sailor was told Friday not to show up until May.
Since a state of national emergency was declared Sept. 14, 2001, a 180-day wait period between military retirement and federal employment had been bypassed. Until Dec. 23. That's when President Barack Obama signed a 2017 defense authorization bill that removed the waiver language, returning the policy to the way it was before the 9/11 attacks.
"I was frustrated," Bartz said. "Very frustrated."
Bartz, of East Bremerton, isn't the only one. Others had planned to start Monday or are further down the pipeline. The shipyard wasn't able to determine the numbers Tuesday.
Prompting the change were lawmakers concerned that more than 41,000 military retirees were hired as Defense Department civilians without a 180-day wait between 2001 and 2014. More than one-third were brought aboard before retirement, and more than half within one pay period after retirement.
"These figures strongly imply a significant number of these members were hired directly into the offices which they supported while in the military," states the Senate Armed Services Committee's report on the defense authorization bill. "While not improper, per se, it does ... create suspicions.
"The committee appreciates the unique and broad experience military retirees bring to the civil service, but the committee also recognizes the virtues afforded by career civil servants. Most military retirees and other veterans already receive hiring preferences in recognition of their service. Beyond that, the committee believes veterans and retirees should compete on equal footing with other qualified applicants."
Bartz, a nuclear mechanic aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, had practically entered the shipyard gate. The former first-class petty officer's final day in the Navy was Oct. 31. Knee surgery and the holidays delayed starting the next day at Shop 38, the mechanics shop. On Jan. 12, he received instructions to report Jan. 23.
"He was supposed to start on Monday," said Bartz's wife, Amber. "I feel he should've been grandfathered in. He got his acceptance letter on Jan. 12, 'Welcome to the Shipyard.' Had it not been for the holidays, he would've been cleared and in before the rule."
The shipyard, which Amber Bartz doesn't blame, is trying to push through a waiver to get her husband and others hired sooner, she said.
"This is a rule that was imposed upon shipyard employees late Thursday afternoon, making them sick with dread as they made the phone calls late Friday morning to tell new hires they no longer had a job come Monday," she said.
A fact sheet from the Navy's Office of Civilian Human Resources says waivers can be submitted when it is determined the retired military member is better qualified than any other candidate. It must show that highly qualified candidates were recruited and that the retired person's knowledge, skills and abilities are clearly superior.
Bantz had spent five years in Shop 38 as a sailor while on shore duty.
"I've literally done everything," he said. "I was certified. This job was waiting for me."
The Bantz family, which includes 8-year-old daughter Katya, had planned to live off Amber's two small businesses and savings during Tom's expected 2 1/2 months between jobs. Had they known it would be longer, he would've searched for an interim position, which he's doing now.
"I have to scramble and basically try to take any kind of job that will have me until I can my job at the shipyard," Tom Bantz said.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and a Republican colleague introduced a bill in February that would have eliminated the 180-day waiting period for five years and required officials to look at ending it permanently. It didn't make it out of committee. They plan to give it another try, spokesman Jason Phelps said.
Regarding President Donald Trump's federal hiring freeze initiated Monday, the shipyard is "seeking clarification, guidance and applicability to the naval shipyards in the near future," spokeswoman Mary Anne Mascianica said.