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The Journal Gazette

Friday, June 17, 2016 10:03 pm

Change in titles for Guard hits delay

Brian Francisco | Washington editor

Federal legislation converting National Guard military technicians into federal civilian employees will be stalled for nine months.

The conversions were scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. But Senate and House versions of the fiscal year 2017 defense bill would delay the switch until October 2017.

The original conversion provision, contained in the fiscal 2016 defense bill passed last year, stipulated that at least 20 percent of dual-status technicians become civilian employees. Dual-status technicians are National Guard members who also work for the Guard in administrative, clerical, finance and mechanical repair positions.

The measure would have affected more than 11,000 technicians nationwide, including 45 at the Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne.

But in March, 44 governors of states and U.S. territories, including Indiana’s Mike Pence, asked congressional leaders to repeal the provision, saying it would reduce the number of Guard forces available to respond to state emergencies. Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, sought the conversion delay when testifying in March before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"We would have preferred a full repeal but appreciate the delay and will continue to work on the issue with the IN National Guard and the National Governors Association," Matt Lloyd, spokesman for Pence, said in an email.

Laborers’ International Union of North America had pushed for the personnel reclassification. LIUNA says it would remove military requirements from civil service workers, make them eligible for overtime pay and allow them to appeal demotions, suspensions and firings to the agency that has jurisdiction for federal merit employees rather than to the military.

Ben Banchs, business manager for LIUNA National Guard Council Local 1776, said in an email that LIUNA is "not overly concerned with the delay" and is "fairly confident the T5 conversion will not be repealed."

Title 5 is the section of federal law governing civil service employees. Dual-status technicians are covered by Title 32, which requires them to be Guard members and military employees.

Banchs did predict that the Defense Department and the National Guard Bureau "will use the delay to get one more shot at repeal leading up to" the fiscal 2018 defense bill.

But he also noted that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, have supported the conversion. In a letter this year to the National Governors Association, the two senators said the types of jobs performed by technicians range far beyond those established by a 1968 law: training members of the National Guard and maintaining and repairing military supplies.

The office of Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the conversion delay provision was a bipartisan compromise that continues to give National Guard commanders authority for their personnel.