Even though the four services under the Department of Defense largely have done a good job of hiring skilled workers to perform major depot-level maintenance, some lags in bringing these people on board and training them have hindered readiness. In a Dec. 14 report to Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified key shortfalls in hiring of civilian employees to perform such work at the Defense Department’s 17 facilities. These sites are responsible for such tasks as tank-engine repair and overhaul of Navy submarines.
According to GAO, some facilities reported that the lack of timely hiring and the prospect of training inexperienced employees has “contributed to delays in the maintenance of some weapons systems.”
The report cited the case of two submarines at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, Hawaii, that were delayed from returning to sea for 23 and 20 months past their scheduled maintenance dates because of a lack of skilled welders and ship fitters. At the Ogden Air Logistics Complex on Hill Air Force Base, Utah, maintenance of F-16 fighters was delayed because of shortages in avionics technicians. Also at Ogden, F-22 maintenance was delayed because the base did not have enough low observable coater specialists.
The Pentagon employs more than 80,000 civilians at Pearl Harbor, Ogden, and its 15 other facilities.
“The depot workforce has unique skills, and the depots must compete with the private sector for qualified personnel,” GAO reported. The staffing task will become more acute as an increasing number of personnel retire while hiring of new employees struggles to keep pace with the attrition.
“Because it takes five years or more to become proficient in some occupations, DoD [the Defense Department] must systematically plan and prepare to hire, train and retain the workforce it needs to support its vital maintenance and repair mission,” GAO stated.