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Bulk mail deliveries got backed up at the Campbell Barracks mail room at the end of the year and lines to pick up mail grew, partly because the mail room had fewer workers than before. But although IMCOM-Europe now must approve many hiring decisions and the hiring process has been slowed, officials said there is no hiring freeze.
Bulk mail deliveries got backed up at the Campbell Barracks mail room at the end of the year and lines to pick up mail grew, partly because the mail room had fewer workers than before. But although IMCOM-Europe now must approve many hiring decisions and the hiring process has been slowed, officials said there is no hiring freeze. (Nancy Montgomery / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — A hiring freeze for military civilian jobs announced last summer as a cost-saver for a cash-strapped Army was itself deep-sixed as unworkable, officials said.

But who gets the say-so on new hires was changed at the time from a single person — the garrison commander — to a procession of officials at the Installation Management Command-Europe.

The new process, begun several months ago, requires garrison commanders to request to fill a vacancy through e-mail, said Mary Griffin-Bales, chief of the civilian personnel branch at IMCOM.

“Before they just filled their vacancies. Now they have to send a document for justification through the e-mail,” Griffin-Bales said.

The idea was to provide more accountability, fairness and oversight and a way to “reshape” the work force, Griffin-Bales said, especially at a time when some garrisons are closing down and a handful of others are growing.

Although the new protocol has taken away the garrison commanders’ prerogative, they don’t really mind, said Fred Lehman, deputy commander of U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg and a retired colonel.

“Let me tell you, it still works,” Lehman said. “Yes, we have to get IMCOM’s permission. I’ve always been told, ‘Yes, I can hire someone.’”

The new system requires that five IMCOM officials review a request before approval. Many agree it got off to a laborious start.

“It took a long time, I’m embarrassed to say — a month to six weeks,” Griffin-Bales said, to get necessary hiring permissions.

Now, she said, with the addition of e-mail deadlines — less than 24 hours for each person in the chain to move it — and after having hired what amounts to 1.5 people to help with the process — things move much more quickly.

“So now I like to think we have the process down to a week or two,” she said. “The reality of it ... it has slowed the process down. But it’s helped us to look at where the needs are — the haves and the have-nots — and to level the field.”

Lehman said that the extra time can be dealt with.

“It makes us think farther into the future to think about positions we have to fill,” he said. “What it does, it forces us to think two or three months in advance. Now I’m asking my people, ‘Are you thinking of leaving this summer?’ I haven’t even resigned yet but I’m already recruiting for my position.”

But not everyone has that luxury. At the mail room at Campbell Barracks, lines to pick up mail were far longer over Christmas than they had been the year before, and bulk mail delivery, such as magazines, was delayed partly because of a reduced number of workers.

“People left and they were never replaced. We were told these positions were not going to be filled,” said Dave Miller, mail room supervisor.

Miller’s shop is also supposed to be able to draw on “borrowed military manpower” — soldiers — to fill some positions. But there are problems with that. Because of deployments — “The unit said it couldn’t fill the tasking,” Miller said — the number of soldiers he had to help with Christmas mail was sharply reduced this December.

And then, the soldiers have to be trained. “By the time they’re trained, they move them out,” Miller said. “I have people leaving so quickly, it’s hard to keep track.”

There is a lot of turnover in U.S. Army Europe jobs. In the second half of January alone, IMCOM had approved filling 198 vacancies, Griffin-Bales said.

Although there is no freeze on hiring, there are now more than 1,100 fewer employees throughout U.S. Army Europe than a year ago, Griffin-Bales said. Some of that reflects the Franconia garrison closing. “We have fewer people to support. It just makes sense you’d have fewer employees,” she said.

A hiring freeze on civilian positions throughout the Army was announced last summer. The Army said as the cost of the war mounts, non-war costs have to be cut.

Money-saving measures also originally called for civilian temporary workers to be fired Armywide. But that measure also was rescinded after U.S. Army officials made the case to the Pentagon that such a measure was unworkable in Europe.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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