WASHINGTON – DoD officials warned that recent furloughs and the ongoing continuing budgetary strains are a threat to the military’s civilian workforce and that some employees may be seeking jobs elsewhere.
“We have got to resolve whatever we call this thing-sequestration, fiscal crisis, whatever it is, we have got to fix it,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said during a hearing last month.
DoD civilian employees, including medical personnel, had their furlough days reduced and ultimately ended in August, but officials warned that furloughs were adversely affecting morale, especially after two years of frozen pay and performance-based bonuses.
Those concerns heightened in early October when many DoD civilian employees were furloughed again with thousands of other federal workers, after lawmakers were unable to agree on a spending bill, shutting down the federal government.
Many employees were called back about a week later based on an interpretation of the “Pay Our Military Act,” which was signed into law on Sept. 30, allowing DoD to eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the “morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of servicemembers.”
Calling government shutdown “one more blow to the morale of our civilian workers,” DoD Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) Robert F. Hale said, “That morale is already low and I think it would get lower.”
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As the government shutdown was announced, Hale explained that all military personnel were directed to remain on normal duty status, that DoD civilian workers who support “excepted” activities such as emergency services would be directed to continue to work, but that all other civilian workers would be put on furlough.
Even before the government shutdown, however, military officials had raised the issue of low morale and how it was affecting civilians who work for the DoD.
“We have begun to see some of our highest quality personnel seeking employment in the private sector,” Army Chief of Staff Raymond Odierno told a House committee in written testimony.
During the hearing, Odierno cited the important contribution of the civilian employees, using San Antonio Military Medical Center as an example.
“At San Antonio Military Medical Center the hospital there, we have some concerns that we are losing some of our critical civilian employees because of the furlough, because they would rather go work at VA or other opportunities because they have lost some faith and trust that they will have consistent employment with the Department of Defense,” he said.
The potential loss of needed civilians who choose to seek employment elsewhere was something that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos also pointed out.
“I think we are in danger of losing those wonderful highly skilled employees because of the furlough and the anticipation of a government shutdown and they will reach a point where they will look for employment elsewhere, whether you are a medical professional or a PhD,” he said.
Personnel Voluntarily Left
Meanwhile, some medical personnel already have voluntarily left their positions with the military, possibly concerned about the furloughs – both threatened and actual.
Jo Ann Robertson, Army Medical Command chief of Civilian Human Resources Division, told U.S. Medicine in a written statement that Army Medicine has lost approximately 2,700 employees or 6% of its civilian workforce since February 2013, when the threat of furloughs became imminent. About 500 (18%) of these losses were civilian physicians and registered nurses. The remaining 82% were employees in both medical and nonmedical/administrative occupations, she said.
Robertson said, “in some cases, the furlough and associated fiscal uncertainty may have been a contributor” to the losses in Army Medicine during that time period.
“Some staff members are taking reassignments to other federal organizations outside the Department of Defense such as the Veteran’s Administration that have not been impacted by sequestration and furloughs,” Robertson wrote in response to questions from U.S. Medicine. “Army Medicine routinely experiences employee attrition at a rate of approximately 8% over a six-month period due to retirements, family relocations and other factors unrelated to sequestration/furloughs.”
Robertson said it would be difficult to predict what impact sequestration would have on potential civilian recruitment in the future, but that Army Medicine continues to actively recruit.
Meanwhile, a profile of federal hiring published by Partnership for Public Service reported that for FY 2012, the federal government hired fewer than 90,000 new employees, a 37% drop from 2009. The organization explained that the number of new employees each year does not represent the number of “new jobs,” because most newly-hired employees are filling vacancies created by those leaving federal service.
The group found that VA, at 24.4% hired the largest percentage of new workers, followed by the Army (13.8%), the Navy (13.2%) and the Air Force (8.4%).