Federal Hiring Freeze Suspends Some Army Child Care Programs

The military is dealing with a child care backlog, which Congress and senior leaders worry could affect the readiness of military parents. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)
The military is dealing with a child care backlog, which Congress and senior leaders worry could affect the readiness of military parents. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

A federal civilian hiring freeze ordered by President Donald Trump has forced at least two Army bases to indefinitely suspend some child care programs.

Officials at Fort Knox, Kentucky, notified families Feb. 17 of the suspension to the on-base part-day child development center (CDC) programs, its hourly care program and the enrollment of new families into the CDC.

"Effective immediately, no new children will be enrolled in the CDC," states the letter, signed by Fort Knox garrison commander Col. Stephen Aiton. "Also, effective 27 February 2017, the CDC will no longer accommodate childcare for our hourly care and part day families until further notice."

The CDC's part-day programs include its part-day preschools. Many military families, including some CDC workers, rely on hourly care for child care during part-time jobs or school hours, or when the full-time day care program is full. One Army spouse at Fort Knox reported that the wait list for her 1-year-old is estimated through July.

"We are prevented from bringing new caregivers on board but are still having our usual staff turnover and illnesses, which creates challenges to maintaining ratios and providing quality childcare," the Fort Knox letter states.

Officials at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, announced that all part-day programs will be suspended in a letter dated Feb. 22 but circulated Tuesday.

Part-day programs at Wiesbaden will be suspended starting March 1, that letter states. That letter does not address hourly care or other CDC enrollment.

"The closure is a result of staff shortage due to the federal hiring freeze," says the letter, signed by Wiesbaden garrison commander Col. Todd Fish.

At issue is a Jan. 23 White House directive freezing most hiring at all federal agencies.

Although a Feb. 1 Defense Department memo exempts from the freeze 16 categories of civilian workers, including "positions providing child care to the children of military personnel," Army base commanders are still required to get permission from the service secretary before filling positions, according to a Feb. 16 memo from Diane Randon, acting assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs.

As of Jan. 17, the Army's Child and Youth Services program had 12,000 positions systemwide with 2,657 vacancies, according to Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM) officials. The Army child development center program has historically had problems keeping positions filled due to high turnover and a sluggish background check system through which all workers must be vetted.

"Issues include access to medical exams, the background checks and slow administration because of limited HR staffing as the Army gets smaller. Another issue is that many candidates take other jobs before an offer can be tendered," Bill Costlow, an IMCOM spokesman, said in January.

Child care programs account for about half of the Army's $1.1 billion annual budget for family programs, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey told senators at a hearing this month.

About 5,500 children are on child care wait lists at the 230 CDC locations worldwide, Army officials said in a recent release. The average wait time for a daycare spot is four months, the release said, with at least five bases with wait times of five months or longer. Army bases in Hawaii have the longest wait times at 16 months.

IMCOM officials said they are unaware of any other bases suspending their hourly or part-day programs as a result of the hiring freeze.

Officials with the Navy said although the service requires a similar approval process for hiring exemptions, they are unaware of any CDC programs being shuttered as a result.

Marine Corps and Air Force officials did not respond by deadline to requests for comment.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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