A group of Republicans in Congress is warning President Donald Trump that his hiring freeze on federal workers, which includes civilians in the Department of Defense, could have a dangerous impact on national security by freezing resources needed to buy and modernize military equipment.
In a letter to the president on Wednesday, 19 Republicans in the House of Representatives asked him to clarify the memorandom he’d signed on Jan. 23 and allow it to exempt defense acquisition personnel. The vague language of the memorandum, which says an agency can keep those it “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities,” has left many departments struggling to figure out whom to exclude.
The Defense Department’s civilian employees make up about a third of the government’s civil servants.
“The implementation of this memorandum, though only nine days in effect, has already negatively affected the Department of Defense,” Republican lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was spearheaded by Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, who oversees the House Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
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Roughly 90 percent of the Defense Department’s acquisition workforce – 141,089 people, according to the latest data – are civilians who fall under the hiring freeze. They are in charge of buying and managing everything needed to support the U.S. military, including weapons, vehicles, food and uniforms.
“They bear the distinguished responsibility of obligating taxpayer dollars to procure essential defense equipment and services, and their defense industry counterparts often outnumber them while doing so,” the Republican lawmakers said in the letter, whose signers included Reps. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Sam Graves of Missouri, Neil Dunn of Florida and Paul Cook of California.
This is government by bait-and-switch for the U.S. military. 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.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash.
In their letter, they point out that these workers are necessary to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise to rebuild the military, as they’re “gradually contributing to the force restoration our military so desperately needs.”
They sent Trump several examples of “readiness crises” in the military, including the Navy’s inability to meet requirements because half the fleet is undergoing some sort of maintenance work.
Trump made the size of the Navy’s fleet a talking point during his presidential campaign, vowing to increase its size and saying the Obama administration had tried to remove the Navy’s 22 cruisers from service and “then refused to modernize these very old, aging, aging ships. They’re old. They’re tired.”
A bipartisan group of eight senators asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis in a letter last week to exempt civilian jobs at Navy shipyards in their states, saying they too have been negatively affected by Trump’s memorandum.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have raised their own concerns about the impact of the freeze, especially on military depots and shipyards across the country charged with maintaining the country’s fleet of planes, ships and vehicles.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Tuesday called Trump’s signing of a largely symbolic order to rebuild U.S. forces – one of his main campaign promises – the same week he ordered the hiring freeze “government by bait-and-switch for the U.S. military.”
“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,” said Smith, the top-ranked Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. “This boneheaded, ideological attack on the functioning of our government is having real consequences.”
Smith’s statement asserted that looming layoffs at military depots due to mandated sequestration cuts will only compound the problem.
Both Republican and Democrat administrations have put hiring freezes in place in the past. The Government Accountability Office in 1982 concluded that hiring freezes were “not an effective means of controlling federal employment,” arguing that additional pay for overtime work and contractors eventually offset any savings.