The effects of the federal civilian hiring freeze could get worse with the upcoming permanent change of station season for service members, the services' senior enlisted advisers told lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill. 

Among the key concerns is how the moves, which typically ramp up in the summer, could affect employment for some military spouses.

Some military personnel are married to civilian spouses who work for the federal government, noted Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, when questioning the senior leaders about the effects PCS season will have in increasing the number of federal civilian vacancies across all areas of installations.

"Now we have service members getting ready for permanent change of station orders, and they no doubt have to make very difficult decisions. Will they have to live away from their spouses or risk [the spouse] not being able to get a new federal job?" he said during a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction and veterans affairs. 

"This is expensive for the military and hard on the families. If the spouse leaves with the service member, the military department where the spouses works …. can't hire a new employee," he said, adding that it affects areas from technical support to gyms to clinics and other areas.
The issue of spouse employment also could be more strongly felt overseas where there is a higher unemployment rate for spouses, said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano.

"Situations like this absolutely will impact and increase that unfortunate unemployment," he said. 

The employment issue is a "double-edged sword," said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright.

"On the one hand, there will be mission requirements that may be in jeopardy of not being met because of the hiring freeze, as civilian spouses transition to a different base, and you can't hire someone," he said. "On the other hand, it's a quality of life issue [of that] spouse transitioning and not being able to be hired for the same type or equivalent job, and the stress that causes on the family."

"And if you throw in how this is affecting our child development centers, now we have a child care issue on top of that. This could be really bad for us," Wright said, even though there are some hiring exemptions in place for child care and they expect to get some positions approved. 

President Trump signed an order Jan. 23 for a federal civilian hiring freeze. On Feb. 1, defense officials issued guidance that specifically exempts "positions providing child care to children of military personnel," and 15 other areas. However, the service branches still must seek approval to hire workers to fill those positions when they become vacant.  

Since the order, some installations have had to suspend some child care programs, such as hourly care, because of staffing shortages related to the hiring freeze. The freeze also has affected a variety of other programs, such as morale, welfare and recreation, and military stores.

In late February, two Army installations decided to cut back on some of their child care services. The moves were quickly reversed, and the Army has since streamlined its process for requesting permission to fill child care center positions.

Even though child care providers are exempt from the hiring freeze under Defense Department guidance, base commanders have to request permission up through the chain of command to hire a person to fill that specific vacancy. That approval process now takes hours, not days, for the Army, said Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey.

He said there have been requests to authorize the hiring of 3,600 child care personnel and another 5,500 positions to fill other "critical roles"  on Army installations.

The senior enlisted leaders said the hiring freeze exacerbated an already difficult situation. The services have difficulty hiring child care workers because of a variety of factors — such as the lengthy hiring process, which includes background checks, and competition in the civilian sector.

The Marine Corps also has a system for requesting authorizations to hire employees, said Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green. "But just the mere fact that we [had the hiring freeze] brought an impact, a backlog, that [had affects] across the family and Marine quality of life spectrum — not just quality of life, but readiness of the force."

There's also an effect on the military workforce, Giordano said.

"What we are not understanding sometimes is the effect on the military workforce that now has the obligation to continue to meet those mission requirements that we can't hire someone to come on board to do," he said. "So there becomes a change in the workload associated with the military counterpart because we still have to be successful in meeting those mission requirements."

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for the Military Times. She can be reached at

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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