Hiring Freeze May Delay Military Family Seasonal Programs

A pool on Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo: U.S. Army/Julie Fiedler.)
A pool on Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo: U.S. Army/Julie Fiedler.)

Military family services and quality-of-life programs could see a delay to seasonal services, such as base pools, and even more staffing shortages as the Defense Department continues to feel the squeeze from the federal hiring freeze ordered in late January by President Donald Trump.

The freeze, now more than 40 days old, is expected to last through at least late April. Although officials have requested exemptions for some seasonal hires, approval can be slow and could delay the hiring process so long that services cannot operate, officials said.

"Air Force leadership is prepared to respond and request relief to the hiring process as needed, especially for any closures or reductions that may arise," said Maj. Bryan Lewis, an Air Force spokesman.

Officials with the Navy Exchange said they have received clearance to fill some seasonal jobs, including garden centers and Navy Lodges. Other programs, including the Army and Air Force Exchange (AAFES), said they are still awaiting approval.

Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy child care programs continue to see temporary closures or hour reductions to some programs, such as part-day and hourly care. Despite a child care hiring exemption approved by the Defense Department in early February, base officials must still get approval to hire for those open spots.

Although the freeze has kept officials from filling openings, more than anything it has exasperated the child care hiring problems the Pentagon regularly experiences, officials said.

Required background checks and training, combined with a high turnover rate, mean the programs often operate with barely enough staff to function, they said. That issue is particularly apparent on Army installations, where parents experience an average four-month wait for a full-time day care slot.

"The normal on-boarding process for CYS workers takes between 80 and 120 days," said Nate Allen, a spokesman for the Army's Installation Management Command. "The freeze is not the reason for staffing shortages, but it has highlighted the difficulty associated with filling some positions."

As of March 2, the Army had approved 5,083 hiring exemptions for civilian positions in child care centers, fire and emergency services, police, security guards and air traffic control, Allen said.

Marine officials said filling full-time day care employee spots is their priority, and exemptions have been granted to do so. Still, they said, part-time programs, including hourly care, may continue to be closed.

Thus far, programs at Misawa Air Base, Japan; Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina; Naval Air Station Lemoore, California; U.S. Army Garrisons Wiesbaden and Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany; Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Fort Drum, New York, have cut, limited or announced plans to cut child care services as a result of the freeze.

At schools run through the Defense Department Education Activity (DoDEA), administrators have been relying on long-term substitutes to fill empty teacher positions, sources familiar with the process said. Officials with DoDEA declined to provide exact information on how many vacancies exist or how they are being filled during the shortage.

Officials with the Marine Corps Exchange and AAFES said they have been forced to cut hours of some services and shutter others. For example, several Marts on Camp Lejeune were forced to shutter or cut hours as a result of staffing shortages late last month. Officials with AAFES said they have been forced to downsize some services, but did not provide specific locations. Navy Exchange officials have so far avoided closing services, they said.

The Defense Commissary Agency has not yet reduced hours or instituted closures, officials said, but commissary customers may notice longer lines as the result of fewer staff at registers.

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

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