Red River Army Depot's request for an exception to the federal hiring freeze has been approved, and its civilian contract workforce will stay intact for now.
More than 700 temporary and term jobs at RRAD became at-risk in late January after the president ordered a federal hiring freeze. Military personnel were exempt, but civilian employees were not.
Late Thursday evening, the acting secretary of the Army approved the request for this exemption "on behalf of 700-plus RRAD term employees on time-limited appointments," according to a post made early Friday afternoon on the depot's Facebook page.
The appointments were set to expire on March 4 and can now be extended.
"This is great news for the depot and our valuable term employees," Deputy Commander Patton Tidwell said in the Facebook post. "The Army approval permits us to maintain a viable workforce in critical positions for the support of military readiness."
Earlier on Thursday, Red River Army Depot Commander Col. Jason A. Carrico told RRAD workers that the process to extend temporary and term appointments was under way, and workers' contracts set to expire in March, April and May were making their way through the system, awaiting approval.
Carrico said based on implementation instructions issued by the deputy secretary of defense on Feb. 1, the acting Army secretary must approve all extensions on a position-by-position basis. He said each installation has to justify, via the chain of command, that each extension is necessary for national security and public safety.
A bevy of officials, local and otherwise, have been working to gain this respite. Without this sector of the workforce, the depot's ability to complete its missions would be severely compromised.
Late Thursday, Dennis L. Lewis of the Texas Military Preparedness Commission told the Texarkana Gazette that "Community leadership has been working this issue intensely since it first surfaced. The issue is not unique to Red River Army Depot and affects many other Army depots and federal installations across the nation. I remain optimistic that the impact on the depot, as a result of the federal hiring freeze, will be minimal."
The freeze was put in place along with other measures, including the initiation of a 30-day readiness review to assess practically all aspects of defense operations, including maintenance, munitions and infrastructure.
This afternoon, Jerry Sparks, economic developer for Texarkana, Texas, said "with the approval of Red River Army Depot's request for individual extensions, our region will retain over 700 jobs that are essential to our community's livelihood."
Sparks is also a member of the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee. He has seen firsthand that the depot's skilled workforce, over the decades, has demonstrated a commitment to the "defenders of our country," by providing them with reliable vehicles and equipment.
"The community owes a debt of gratitude to Rep. John Ratcliffe, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Sen. John Cornyn, whose diligence helped with this successful effort to retain jobs," he said. "Our region is blessed to have elected officials and community volunteers ready and willing to work behind the scenes and without credit to keep our workforce at Red River Army Depot."
Randy L. Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees who had earlier expressed concern on how notifications were handled, welcomed the announcement.
"I think this is great news for workers of Red River Army Depot and the citizens of Texarkana," he said. "We finally got the commitment we were looking for and that the workers of Red River Army Depot deserve."
He said the amount of time it took for the Army to address the problem was unsettling.
"Nothing is ever done until we see it in writing," he said. "It was getting late in the process for people who didn't know their jobs were going to be renewed."
He said the employees needed confirmation.
"Their lives were on hold," he said. "Nobody should be kept on that kind of status. It's not fair."
Erwin said it is important that workers keep engaged with the process through their unions, their Congressional representatives and with policy decision-makers.
"Don't wait until crisis moments to act," he said. "Stay engaged."
He also said Ratcliffe's office was "extremely helpful and productive in helping to resolve this situation."
"Supporting the depot's critical mission has always been one of my top priorities in Congress. My staff and I have been working tirelessly with the administration over the past few weeks to ensure that President (Donald) Trump's federal hiring freeze would not have the unintended consequence of negatively impacting job security for employees at the Depot," Ratcliffe said in a statement from his office. "... The Depot is a critical part of our national defense, and you can count on me to continue fighting for its success."
The depot was notified early today that their request for an exception to the federal hiring freeze was approved.
"The Command appreciates the continued interest, concern and support of the entire community as the Army continues to diligently work within the boundaries of law and policy in support of our employees and the depot mission," the Facebook post states.