House Republicans Look to Boost Pentagon's Civilian Workforce Through Hiring Reform

Defense Department file photo

The Defense Department should have an easier time permanently hiring its temporary employees, according to Republican lawmakers who introduced a bill last week they said would grow the department’s civilian workforce.

The 2016 Department of Defense Workforce Flexibility Act would give temporary workers a leg up when applying to vacant, full-time positions. The bill, introduced by Republican Reps. Markwayne Mullin and Steve Russell, would treat the non-permanent employees as career workers applying for internal, merit-based promotions.

The legislation would apply to the Defense Department a hiring reform President Obama signed into law in 2015 that applied only to land management agencies, including the Forest Service and several components of the Interior Department. Proponents of the Land Management Flexibility Act would benefit both dedicated employees and government efficiency by reducing turnover and training costs.

Lawmakers said expanding that law to Defense would “expedite hiring and cut down on the time needed for training a new hire” at the department.

“The federal government’s red tape has made it difficult for our defense installations to hire the workers they need to be able to adjust to frequent changes in workload or sudden increases in demand,” Mullin said.

Both Mullin and Russell, a military retiree, touted the bill as a boon to workers in their home state. At locations such as the Army Ammunition Plan and Tinker Air Force Base, civilians are involved in making bombs and ammunition, deploying bombers and overhauling the Air Force’s aircraft, Russell said.

“It only stands to reason that those hired to fill needed jobs on a temporary basis should be duly considered for full time positions,” he said. “This preserves their training and cuts waste in time and effort.”

The Pentagon employs more than 15,000 temporary employees, according to the latest data from the Office of Personnel Management. They do not receive the same benefits as full-time workers, such as retirement perks, and their career advancement opportunities are limited.

Mark Davis, the national vice president of the National Federation of Federal Employees who helped shepherd the land management legislation through Congress, said he was happy to see the language expanded to more employees.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Davis said. Temporary employees are often in their positions for an “extended period off time” without being designated as career workers, he explained.

“You’re still accruing skills, you’re still a valuable asset,” he said. “You should still have a career path.” He added this expansion should just be a first step, as the provisions should be adapted on a governmentwide basis to give agencies a better pool of “highly qualified applicants.”

“This is just good business sense,” Davis said. 

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