Bipartisan Demands for More Hiring Freeze Exemptions Are Piling Up

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, wants to ensure childcare at military bases is not affected. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, wants to ensure childcare at military bases is not affected. Molly Riley/AP

Yet another set of lawmakers has requested that an exemption to President Trump’s federal hiring freeze be allowed -- this time to ensure child care services at Army bases continue uninterrupted.

A letter from Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Utah, and Mark Meadows, N.C., the top-ranked Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to acting Army Secretary Robert Spicer is the latest in a series of requests from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle looking for carve outs in Trump’s hiring moratorium and ensuring that existing exemptions are followed. The oversight leaders’ appeal comes on the heels of reports of several bases shuttering part-day childcare programs due to an inability to hire staff. Defense Department-wide guidance, following broad exemption authority spelled out in Trump’s initial memorandum, allowed services to fill civilian positions “providing child care to the children of military personnel” with permission from the service chief. 

Chaffetz and Meadows requested that Spicer take steps to ensure that child care positions at all military bases are approved for exemptions promptly. 

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“Our military men and women should be able to protect our country without having to worry about who will care for their children,” the lawmakers wrote. They asked for a “list of steps” the Army is taking to exempt not just those jobs from the freeze, but all of those allowed for under the authority presented to the acting secretary.

Their letter follows another last month from eight Republican senators -- Jim Inhofe, Okla.; Mike Lee, Utah; Johnny Isakson, Ga.; David Perdue, Ga.; John Boozman, Ark.; Ted Cruz, Texas; Orrin Hatch, Utah; and James Lankford, Okla. -- as well as Tim Kaine, D-Va., asking the Office of Personnel Management to give the Pentagon more authority to grant exemptions to large swaths of positions at military bases. While they voiced support for the overall goal to  “reduce the size of bureaucracy across the entire government,” they said the freeze was implemented without “practical concerns about our national security.” Failing to carve out depot-level maintenance and repair positions, they wrote, would make readiness goals “much more difficult to achieve.”

“By the very nature of the work done at these facilities,” the senators said, “commanders and managers must persistently address vacancies and new needs in the workforce to adapt to the constantly fluctuating demands of the warfighter.”

In addition to the direct requests, lawmakers have attempted to adjust the freeze parameters legislatively. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced with 29 cosponsors a measure to exempt from the moratorium any veteran applying for a civilian job. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., has a bill to exempt military depot civilians. Legislation from Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced with 91 cosponsors including Republicans, would carve out the entire Veterans Affairs Department. Pamela Mitchell, VA’s acting assistant secretary, said at a hearing this week the department is still examining whether it will need to request additional exemptions on top of the more than 90 job classifications it has already spelled out.

Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., wrote a bill to allow the Pentagon to hire anyone at or supporting a shipyard; Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif, would exempt the Indian Health Service from the freeze. To date, the measures have not received any attention and all are awaiting action in Chaffetz’s committee. 

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