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The Pentagon (Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon issued a hiring freeze this week on many vacant civilian jobs as it takes steps to reduce its headquarters staffs.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work ordered the hiring halt, which went into effect March 20, on civilian jobs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Agencies and DOD Field Activities, according to a Feb. 23 memo. The hiring freeze includes all open full- and part-time, temporary and permanent civilian positions for which a tentative offer had not been made before March 20. Some “mission-critical” positions are exempt.

The halt in hiring is designed to give the Pentagon a detailed look at its civilian structure as it determines what positions can be cut from headquarters staffs that have ballooned since 2001. Last year, Work ordered the department to cut 25 percent of its civilian headquarters positions, expanding on a 2013 directive from then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to cut those staffs by 20 percent. It was not immediately clear how many jobs would be cut or how much money would be saved.

Reductions to headquarters staffs, Work wrote in an August 2015 memo, are necessary to divert funds to “higher priority requirements in support of the warfighter and to address underfunded strategic needs.”

The cuts, a part of a broader “delayering” effort to trim the Defense Department bureaucracy, are also designed to bring the reducing of the civilian workforce better in line with that of the military. The Government Accountability Office in December determined the department’s civilian workforce shrunk about 3.3 percent from 2012 through 2016. Military troops were cut about 7 percent during the same time.

Lawmakers for several years have insisted the Pentagon speed up its civilian downsizing, especially in its headquarters staffs, which have many responsibilities, including drafting department policies and managing budgets.

The Defense Department is making an effort to do that, senior leaders have said.

“We have instructions, both internal and from the Congress, to hold down civilian (jobs) commensurate with the drawdown in the military, and we recognize that mandate,” Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

The hiring freeze would ensure positions that will be cut are not filled beforehand, Work wrote.

“In order to ensure implementation of organizational delayering commitments made through the delayering process and meet the headquarters reduction targets established by Congress, we must avoid hiring into positions that an organization has committed to eliminate as a result of delayering,” Work wrote in the February memo.

The freeze will be lifted for individual organizations as they complete several tasks. Organizations will be able to fill vacant positions, Work wrote, once their plans for cutting unneeded staff positions have been approved and they’ve entered all data on their staffs into the Pentagon’s comprehensive accounting system. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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