An Air Force worker creates a special tool for milling A-10 Thunderbolt II wing mounts. Air Force personnel officials expect to trim the civilian workforce by laying off 2,000 temporary workers and offering retirement and buyout packages to 2,000 full-time employees before the start of fiscal 2012. (Air Force)
An uncertain budget outlook is driving the Air Force to cut about 4,000 civilian positions shortly after the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. Another 2,000 summer hires will go off the books Sept. 30.
Personnel officials expect to trim temporary jobs and offer retirement and buyout packages to full-time staff employees. All the cuts will come from less critical-mission areas. The Air Force expects to begin the separations and retirements by Oct. 31.
An across-the-board hiring freeze is in place for 90 days as well, according to the Air Force, which put the measures in place Aug. 9. Anyone already offered a civilian job will be hired, officials said.
Today, the Air Force employs 189,000 civilians, including about 8,800 temporary workers; the Air Force's proposed 2012 budget includes funds for 182,199, although that number could be different in the military spending bill, still weeks away from being approved by Congress.
"One of the things we're conscious of is, obviously (the budget) hasn't gotten through the House and Senate," said Brig. Gen. Gina Grosso, director of manpower, organization and resources. "I don't think any of us believe we're going to come through with what we asked for. We just don't expect to end up with 182,199 truthfully."
Earlier this year, the Air Force projected hiring 21,500 civilians for positions opened up because of insourcing and a decreased reliance on contractors. It later revised the number to 4,000 based on budget projections.
The service instituted hiring controls in May but still couldn't slow growth of employees enough and needed to take other actions, according to Maj. Gen. Sharon K.G. Dunbar, director of force management policy.
A hiring freeze, according to Grosso, means less of an impact on the existing workforce.
"We're really trying to do our best to take care of the people currently in the Air Force," she said. "Certainly, that is at the expense of the people that want to come in."
The Air Force is offering the buyout and early retirement packages through the Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment Authority and the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority, programs routinely used by the federal government to downsize or reorganize agencies.
Neither Grosso nor Dunbar discussed the amount of the offers, but some workers could be eligible for packages up to $25,000, the maximum amount allowed under the programs.
Air Force Materiel Command employs the largest number of civilians and surveyed them in May about early retirement and buyout offers. About 10 percent of the more than 60,000 workers surveyed expressed interest in the incentives.
AFMC along with the other major commanders will receive a set number of incentive packages to offer employees in less critical mission areas, Dunbar said. The areas have not been identified, she said.
"We need to be able to gauge where it is that we are seeking to restructure," Dunbar said. "We're working through that right now in terms of each major command."
The Air Force can redistribute unused packages from one major command to another that needs more, she said.
"We're … very mindful of the impact of any of these shifts on our civilian workforce and their families … That's why we're working very hard to prudently move through this in a logical fashion," Dunbar said. "We will live within our means, but we will also move to shape the force in a very judicious way."