(This article was updated on Feb. 27 to include information about effects on exchange facilities at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.)
At least one military exchange service has had to close or reduce operating hours at some facilities as s a result of the federal civilian hiring freeze, while the other exchanges -- and other quality-of-life programs for military families -- could see ill effects as the freeze prevents them from filling vacancies.
Central Marine Mart, a convenience store at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will close March 6 until further notice as a result of staffing shortages, officials said. Three other convenience stores either have reduced operations or will by March 6. Various other services operated by Marine Corps Community Services at that location have been reduced or temporarily suspended.
"The hiring freeze affecting all government employees is now affecting our ability to conduct business as usual," states the website for MCCS at Camp Lejeune and nearby Marine Corps Air Station New River.
The civilian hiring freeze also is affecting the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, according to AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey. AAFES has asked the Army for an exemption to the hiring freeze, he said. In the meantime, AAFES has dealt with the order's effects by increasing hours of part-time employees and delaying planned openings of new stores.
But, Anstey said, "an exemption is needed soon to avoid reducing operating hours and/or closing stores."
Officials who operate Navy exchanges and Marine exchanges have also asked for exemptions, and are assessing and monitoring the effects of the hiring freeze.
Those aren't the only officials doing so: Nearly every military family and quality-of-life program on installations will face challenges if unable to fill job vacancies, including Defense Department schools, commissaries, military exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation programs.
Information was not available from either the Department Defense Education Activity or the Defense Commissary Agency about whether the hiring freeze has affected operations at schools and commissaries. Whether they are teachers or staff members in DoDEA schools, or cashiers in commissaries, these employees are federal government workers, as are those in programs that assist military families with as spouse employment, financial readiness and relocation assistance issues, to name a few.
NO NAF WAIVER?
A number of officials within the Defense Department are questioning why military exchanges and other entities operated with nonappropriated funds are included under the freeze, sources said. By law, employees of NAF organizations -- such as the military exchanges and MWR activities -- are not employees of federal agencies or employees of the U.S. government. Their salaries are paid for by the profits of those operations. They were not included in the government furloughs of 2013.
"It makes no sense to include them," said one DoD official. "They're self-supporting, and their salaries are not paid by the government."
The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.
NAF employees are included in the civilian hiring freeze because of the wording of President Trump's memo, DoD spokesman Johnny Michael explained. The order states that the freeze "applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and
programmatic funding, excepting military personnel."
Officials in the Marine Corps Business and Support Services Division have also asked for an exemption for all Marine Corps Exchange retail employees from the hiring freeze "since there is no appropriated fund taxpayer expenditures in funding of their salary and benefits," said Bryan Driver, spokesman for the division.
Those officials have also asked to be able to hire seasonal employees at the exchanges, pools and Inns of the Corps, he said. A DoD memoauthorizing exemptions to the hiring freeze for some employment areas allows these actions regarding seasonal employees and short-term temporary help needed to meet recurring seasonal workloads, but advance coordination is required.
But the effects are being felt.
"With our highly transient workforce, employees leave on a continuous basis, requiring us to constantly hire in order to maintain adequately staffed programs and facilities at a standard level," officials wrote on the MCCS Lejeune-New River website. "As we continue to be included in the hiring freeze, and our current staffing levels continue to be reduced, it has become necessary to alter our current operations, either by temporarily consolidating services, curtailing hours of operation, suspending programs, or closing facilities,"
Future changes likely would include reducing hours of operation, canceling some activities and programs, and additional temporary closures of facilities, officials wrote.
Navy Exchange officials also have asked for an exemption to the hiring freeze, according to Navy Exchange Service Command spokeswoman Kristine Sturkie.
"We are currently looking at our open billets and staffing levels to assess potential operational impacts and how we can mitigate them," Sturkie said, adding that NEXCOM recently received approval to hire seasonal workers for its garden centers, Navy Lodges and other short-term requirements.
WHO IS EXEMPT?
There are exemptions to the hiring freeze outlined in the memo that apply to some programs and services for military families, included because Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has deemed them "necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities," according to the guidance:
- Those who provide child care to children of military personnel.
- Those at the installation level providing direct support to the prevention of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and suicide, and providing support to those who are affected.
- Those who perform mortuary affairs activities and other directly related services to properly care for the fallen and their families.
- Those who provide inpatient care at military treatment facilities, and provide acute and emergency outpatient care in military medical and dental facilities. Also, jobs involving communicable disease prevention and similar public health activities.
However, these aren't blanket exemptions -- they require approval, and officials granted authority to approve the exemptions must be ready to "justify their ... decisions on a position-by-position basis," per the memo.
The health care exemption is also vague, said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association, noting that the DoD guidance also first states that the exemptions apply "to the extent necessary to maintain capability to ensure a medically ready force."
She said advocates have been watching military health care, and other areas, to determine if there are effects on families.
"AAFES having to cut hours or close stores would be a direct result of the hiring freeze," she said. "But this will be an issue – separating out the hiring freeze from the problems that existed before."
She cautioned against blaming every cut in access on the hiring freeze. For example, families recently have said there are problems for DoDEA in hiring substitute teachers, but family advocates have heard complaints before about such problems and have been trying to track down the root cause.
According to the DoD guidance, any job candidate who received a job offer or appointment before Jan. 22 and who received documentation from the agency that specified a start date on or before Feb. 22, was able to take that position.
The timeline for the hiring freeze is uncertain.
President Trump's memo ordering a hiring freeze of federal civilians, signed Jan. 23, also directed the Office of Management and Budget and the Officer of Personnel Management to come up with a long-term plan within 90 days to reduce the size of the federal government's work force through attrition.
When that plan is implemented, the hiring freeze will end, according to the president's order.
The unnamed DoD official said no DoD civilians should have been included in the hiring freeze.
"They all contribute to the Defense Department's ability to do the job," he said.
Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.