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Smith: Trump hiring freeze hurts military maintainers around the country

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee.

STARS AND STRIPES

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 31, 2017

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze is “striking at the heart” of the military’s ability to maintain its equipment, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said hundreds of Defense Department civilian maintainers who have been hired for renewable terms at facilities around the country to work on aircraft, ships and ground combat vehicles now face layoffs under the freeze, which was ordered by Trump last week.

The loss of manpower from Trump’s order will hit the military’s maintenance and readiness just as the president embarks on an effort to rebuild the armed forces, Smith said. Overall, the order could affect thousands of DOD civilians hired to do maintenance work for limited terms.

“This boneheaded, ideological attack on the functioning of our government is having real consequences,” he said.

The Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, was working Tuesday with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to determine whether the department would allow exemptions for hiring those positions, a spokesman told Stars and Stripes.

Among his first acts, Trump signed a memorandum temporary halting federal hiring for 90 days – with an exemption for military personnel – until his administration can create a plan to reduce the size of the workforce. He traveled to the Pentagon days later to sign another memorandum setting a policy to rebuild the military and calling for a top-to-bottom review.

“In the same week that President Trump says he is rebuilding the military, he signs an order striking at the heart of U.S. military readiness,” Smith said in a statement. “That is unconscionable and it directly affects the support we provide to U.S. servicemembers in the field, not to mention the national security of the United States.”

Smith’s office released a list of some facilities where the term and temporary DOD civilians face layoffs or empty positions cannot be filled:

• Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, Texas, which maintains Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, is set to lay off 678 direct labor and 55 indirect labor employees.

• Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, works on F-15 jets and other aircraft, and it is short 343 aircraft maintainers out of its 7,000 employees but will not be able to hire.

• Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, which builds and repairs ground combat vehicles, needs to hire 248 workers and 40 are set to be laid off.

The positions are comprised of term and temporary DOD civilians. Term workers can be hired for 1 to 4 years to handle projects or help with a large workload, and temporary workers are hired for jobs that are not expected to last more than a year, according to the Code of Federal Regulations.

Under Trump’s executive action, the Defense Department and all federal agencies cannot to hire new employees or create new positions. They are specifically barred from tapping contractors to complete work.

The move was meant to protect the American taxpayer and halt runaway growth of the government, according to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

The freeze will remain in place for three months while the Office of Management and Budget creates a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition.”

However, the president has allowed Mattis and other agency heads to make exemptions for positions they deem necessary for national security and public safety.

The Defense Department has not issued any exemptions to the civilian hiring freeze, Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael said.

It is considering positions that may need to be exempted for several reasons, but it has not made any final determinations. He did not specify which positions the department is considering.

Thornberry is working with Mattis on ways to ensure that the military’s readiness to defend the country and fight wars is not affected, according to spokesman Claude Chafin.

“No one takes the issue of restoring military readiness more seriously than Chairman Thornberry,” Chafin wrote in an email.

Last week, the acting director at the Department of Veterans Affairs announced he will exempt doctors and other front-line health care providers after a groundswell of concern over the freeze’s effects on its nationwide system of hospitals and clinics.

Stars and Stripes reporter Corey Dickstein contributed to this story.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten

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