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Temporary closure of Fort Drum child care blamed on DOD hiring freeze

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FORT DRUM — Limited in staffing and reeling from a Department of Defense-mandated civilian hiring freeze, Fort Drum on Thursday announced the closure of a facility that provided part-time child care to the post’s families.

The Memorial Child Development Center, Enduring Freedom Drive, will close Feb. 8 to ensure full staffing for full-time child care, designated by the Army as a higher priority. The center had 74 spots for hourly care of children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, and despite the moving of some spots to the post’s Po Valley Child Development Center, 48 spots will be lost.

The civilian hiring freeze stems from a memo sent Jan. 10 by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, which discussed ways for installations to trim costs because of budget uncertainties and possible sequestration.

The closure was announced to parents in a letter from Harold E. Greer, director of the post’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation office, that was handed out at the center Thursday and placed on the post’s Facebook page.

Noting that the office tried to shore up the staffing gap by providing more hours to part-time workers and placing management in direct care roles, Mr. Greer said the hiring freeze created an “emergency state.”

“I regret that this notice comes to you as a complete surprise and with limited time for you to facilitate your planning for alternate child care options,” he wrote.

The post reported it had 59 open child-care-provider positions that cannot be filled because of the hiring freeze.

Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, the post’s garrison commander, said that the longer the hiring freeze continues, the worse the problems it creates will become.

“In short, this issue will likely get worse before it gets better,” he said. Noting that the closure would be hard on families and providers, he said it was “an inevitable result of the current budgetary uncertainty and the constraints that it brings.”

Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 400 at the post, said the closure is just one sign of stress following limited hiring within the last year, even before the hiring freeze.

“We’re quickly reaching critical mass,” he said.

He said that even when employees were being hired, it could take 90 days or more to get positions filled.

Mr. Zuhlke said services on post and civilian employees will be strained even further if other cost-cutting options in the DOD memo are implemented, such as the placement of employees on furloughs as long as 22 nonconsecutive days.

“There’s a large black cloud hanging over the installation,” Mr. Zuhlke said. “We’re kind of in limbo, waiting on the Department of the Army to give a sign on how to get out of this.”

The full note about the center’s closure can be found at http://on.fb.me/WxVntG.

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