A number of quality of life programs on military installations have gotten a reprieve from the federal civilian hiring freeze.

Military exchanges; morale, welfare and recreation programs; and family readiness programs are now exempt from the freeze, according to a March 7 memorandum signed by Anthony Kurta, acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Added to the list of exempt functions: essential military installation and base operating services; infrastructure sustainment; and family readiness programs, including MWR activities and any other positions paid with nonappropriated funds.

However, commissaries had not yet received an exemption from the hiring freeze as of Thursday, according to Defense Commissary Agency spokesman Kevin Robinson.

In a Feb. 1 memorandum with guidance to DoD about implementing the federal civilian hiring freeze directed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 23, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work outlined 16 DoD functions that are exempt from the hiring freeze, including workers providing child care to military children. Even though those functions are exempt from the freeze, officials still must submit reports to justify the reasons each position is deemed critical to national security.

The process has caused problems with some of the functions that are exempt — most notably child development centers, which have had problems being able to hire enough people even before the hiring freeze took effect. Some CDCs have announced they've suspended services, such as hourly care. 

DoD schools recently received word that have approval to hire teachers, school nurses, principals and other key personnel in schools, as well as to fill some vacancies for above-school-level operations and support. These employees, like those in the Defense Commissary Agency, are federal civilians. 

Commissary stores worldwide have about 1,650 vacancies, and of those, 83 are management positions. That's the same number commissary officials reported Feb. 28.

"So far no services have had to be curtailed at any store, as our part-time employees are working additional hours," said Robinson, the DeCA spokesman. "We are beginning to see longer lines at the cash register in a few locations."

If the hiring freeze continues for an extended period of time, he said, officials eventually may be forced to temporarily cut services or reduce days/hours if staffing problems occur.

A number of officials within the Defense Department questioned why military exchanges and other entities operated with nonappropriated funds were included in the hiring freeze. 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 revenue of those operations.

Navy Exchange Service Command reports 1,468 vacancies around the world, including 1,108 in stores, 242 in Navy Lodges, and in 118 at headquarters. They've requested approval to fill 478 vacancies, with 335 positions approved. Of those, 108 positions are in stores, 163 are in Navy Lodges and 64 are at headquarters, said Kristine Sturkie, spokeswoman for Navy Exchange Service Command. 

"At this point, we have been able to minimize impacts to the customer experience while accepting some risks in the back-of-the-house operations, though a prolonged hiring freeze could change this situation," she said. 

The Army has granted exemptions for 876 positions to help ensure Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities at 18 locations remain operational, said AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey. Another 2,069 positions at 85 additional locations are currently under Army review, he said.

"The Army has been extremely helpful and understanding in working with [AAFES] during the hiring freeze," Anstey said.

In Marine Corps Community Services, which includes the Marine Corps Exchange and Marine Corps MWR as well as other quality of life programs, there are about 3,500 vacancies throughout the Corps, said Bryan Driver, spokesman for the Business and Support Services Division. DoD's update to the implementation of the hiring freeze added flexibility for positions paid with nonappropriated funds, he said.

"Under current procedures we may advertise vacant positions, but must request secretary of the Navy approval before a job offer can be made," Driver said. 

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

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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