Defense Department file photo

Defense Department Issues Partial Civilian Hiring Freeze

Pentagon launches ban as it attempts to reduce HQ civilians by 25 percent.

The Defense Department has instituted a hiring freeze in the office of the secretary of Defense and the component agencies reporting directly to it, according to a memorandum circulated by Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work last month.

The freeze began March 20 at the office of the secretary of Defense, Defense Agencies and Defense Field Activities, the memo stated. Altogether, hiring has been halted at more than two dozen Defense agencies employing about 100,000 individuals. Civilian positions in individual branches or in the commands of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are not affected by the freeze, which was first reported by Defense News.

The hiring suspension comes as the Pentagon follows through on an initiative to reduce headquarters staff by 25 percent, codified by Congress in the 2016 defense authorization bill. The civilian employee cuts were originally launched by then-Secretary Chuck Hagel, who required each service to reduce its headquarters spending by 20 percent. Follow-up guidelines written by Secretary Ashton Carter told the components to strive for a 20 percent reduction in civilian staff as part of those savings.

Lawmakers have accused the Pentagon of simply shifting civilians from top-level headquarters offices to lower-level offices, undermining the true intent of the initiative to trim the civilian workforce as Defense reduced its military activity. A December Government Accountability Office report found Defense cut its total civilian workforce by 3.3 percent between fiscal years 2012 and 2016, but the reductions did not correspond to savings in personnel costs.

The current hiring freeze, Work said, will allow the department to meet the headquarters reduction targets established by Congress by “delayering” the management structure of the affected offices and agencies. That process will allow the Pentagon to organize and “accurately reflect” its current needs in its Fourth Estate Manpower Tracking System.

The freeze affects all vacant, full and part-time, temporary and permanent civilian positions “with no tentative offer presented as of March 19, 2016.”

The hiring ban will continue for each component until department officials update the tracking system with all positions and identify each for retention, restructuring, reduction or realignment. That plan must then be approved by the “Senior Review Panel” or Work himself, at which point hiring can resume. Work did provide for “limited exceptions” in which “mission-critical requirements that cannot be delayed or deferred” can be filled during the freeze, but those too must be approved by the deputy chief management officer. The component must justify to the DMCO why the need to fill such a position is urgent and why the work cannot be redistributed to existing employees.