Tasha Bangura, a veteran married to an active service member, has had to put her life on hold.
When Bangura’s husband got the notification that he was going to be relocating to Fort Eustis in Virginia from Washington, D.C. back in April, she immediately took action to make sure that her family would continue to have two incomes. After finding out that her current job at Fort Belvoir wouldn’t let her continue her work as a human resources specialist remotely, she went on leave without pay so that she could register in the military spouse program and hopefully get prioritized for a new job with the federal government.
Four months later, that plan seemed to be coming to fruition. She was notified that she was matched with a job as a military human resources specialist at the same pay and qualifications level at Fort Eustis. She sent in an application.
But it took a while for everything to get straightened out, and she didn’t get a job offer for more than a month. When she finally got one, it was the exact same day that President Trump signed a federal hiring freeze, January 23.
Now she’s stuck in limbo. Trump’s executive order called for a halt to all civilian hiring for positions that were vacant as of noon, January 22. It doesn’t specify exactly when the freeze will end, but it does say that in 90 days, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget must put forward “a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.” The freeze will end once that is in place.
The order exempts all military personnel. But Bangura is a civilian.
For days, she didn’t hear anything about the job and couldn’t get any information. Then she finally got through to the person who was handling her job offer. “She said, ‘Well everything is on hold, when the freeze is lifted we can see if we can talk about onboarding,’” Bangura said. But the job may not still be there for her. “I’m just in a holding pattern at this point.”
Bangura and her husband have had to scale back to a single income before, so they have been putting extra money into savings in case it happened again. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, and she now has five children to support, including three under the age of six. The cost for their care alone comes to $1,700 a month.
“Who really plans, when you’re accustomed to a dual income, to be out of work and reduced to one income for months and months on end that could potentially turn into a year or more?” she said.
So they’ve had to cut back where they can. “We are watching every single dime we spend,” she said.
Her six-year-old daughter was just diagnosed with autism a few weeks ago, although she and her husband had long known their child was developing differently. While they waited for the diagnosis, Bangura read up on interventions that could help her daughter, such as buying her books and even a play structure to improve motor skills.
But now when she reads about something she could buy to help her daughter, she holds back. “I can’t afford to make that discretionary purchase,” she said, her voice cracking. “It becomes a bit demoralizing for me because I can’t help her.”
They’ve even considered pulling their three kids out of childcare, but if Bangura is finally able to get a job, she knows that putting them back in would be tough — she’d have to sit on a waitlist before getting them spots. “It took us three months to even get a slot,” she said. “If we pull them out and I find a job, I have to worry about childcare all over again. It’s like a vicious cycle.”
She’s applied to jobs in the private sector and even positions she is clearly far too qualified for. “Trying to dumb down the resume — it’s not working,” she said. “I’m not trying to make what I made in the D.C. area, I just want a job.” But nothing has come through.
Bangura’s family is not alone. Service members frequently have to move between installations, making their spouses’ careers complicated. The federal government, through a variety of programs that smooth their hiring process, is often one of the best solutions.
Among members of the Military Spouse JD Network, who are all in the legal field, as of 2016 more than half have worked as an attorney for the government at some point in their career. Twenty-eight percent currently work for the government. While that includes state and local governments as well, “federal service is a big part of it,” said Josie Beets, the organization’s president.
“Working for the federal government is the goal” for many military spouses, she added. “Once you’ve established yourself, there does seem to be a willingness to help you find another job at another installation.”
There are also a number of programs set up to help facilitate getting military spouses government jobs. There’s the non-competitive appointment of military spouses for competitive positions, begun by an executive order issued by President George W. Bush, that streamlines hiring spouses who have just moved; there’s the Priority Placement Program that allows spouses to register at a new base and get priority. So far, neither appear to be exempt from the hiring freeze.
So now that option has been blocked off.
Mary, who asked to be identified with a pseudonym because she’s not authorized to speak to the press about her work, is enlisted and recently moved to a new installation with her husband and two infants. Her husband, an attorney, has to go through a lengthy and expensive process every time they move if he wants to work in private practice, so instead he tries to get a government job that allows him to use his law license anywhere. “Really the best choice for military spouses is working for the federal government,” she said.
Things were looking good for him this time: he was interviewed for a position in September and then was told tentatively he got the job in December. But thanks to paperwork, he didn’t get an offer until the early morning hours of January 23 — and Trump signed his order a few hours later. Mary’s husband accepted immediately, but the order extended back until noon the day before, and he was told four days later that everything was on hold.
If the order is in place for the full 90 days, “My family loses about $18,000,” Mary said. They’re currently trying to sell their house at her previous installation, so at the moment they own two homes. “I was under the impression that we were going to have two incomes, and that has not come to fruition,” she said.
“You know that feeling when you walk into Target and you could buy anything and it’s not really a hardship?” she said. “I have to be a lot more thoughtful about what I purchase.”
All the while, her husband’s career has to be put on hold, potentially weakening his ability to get the next job. “I’m really passionate” about serving, she said. But, she added, “My family is being harmed… I really can’t rationalize staying in for a long time when the only benefit of trying to help my husband is suddenly frozen.”
Some members of MSJDN have reported having job offers rescinded or put on indefinite hold, similar to what Mary and Bangura are going through. But the freeze reaches beyond those who have lost job opportunities. The lack of clarification about when it will end and what will happen to the federal workforce when it does end has thrown many families into chaos.
Beets herself is one of them. “The biggest immediate impact is raising the anxiety level,” she said.
She and her husband, who is enlisted, are facing a very uncertain future. He has the chance to go to a training school for ten months, a necessary step for his career progression. “It’s a great opportunity for him,” she said. “I’m really proud of him.”
But they don’t want to move their two school-age children just for ten months and then have to move them again, switching schools in the process. They had been contemplating “geobatching,” or making him a geographic bachelor: her husband would move to the school for ten months while she stayed back with the kids, all the while supporting two households.
“Our ability to do that, and our ability to keep that consistency for our kids, is dependent on me being employed,” Beets explained.
But then the freeze hit. She was hired for her current federal job for a two-year term that runs out in September, and it’s unclear whether it can or will get renewed with Trump’s order in place. “The likelihood that I’ll be hired on permanently, which was of course an aspirational goal, is a diminishing possibility, to say the best,” she said. “If my position ceases to exist in September for whatever reason, whether because of the hiring freeze or cutbacks… that’s going to affect what our family does.” If she’s without work, she and her children will have to follow her husband to his school.
The problem could get even more complicated, however: they have to make a decision about what to do by June or July, but at that point Beets may not know what her future at work holds. “Our calculus as to how we make that decision is sort of an open question. It’s something we talk about every night at the dinner table. It is a daily conversation in my house,” she said. “Sometimes we have the conversation until we can’t, we’re not allowed to talk about this for seven days.”
“All we want really is certainty,” she added. “There are so many parts of our lives that we don’t have control over as military families. We don’t have control over where we live, I don’t have control over when my husband goes to work or when he comes home… We try to keep control over the small narrow this we can control. One of those being my job.”
These families argue that if Trump wants to support the military, he has to support their spouses as well. Beets’ situation, for example, “impacts my husband’s ability to serve,” she said. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised that those in the military would have the resources and support “they need to get the job done,” in his words.
The White House didn’t return a request for comment on these consequences of the freeze, or whether the administration would do anything to address them.
“It’s one of those things that probably isn’t a top-line result that people think of when they think of the federal hiring freeze,” Beets said. “But it has such a high impact on our community.”
Bangura tried to reserve her judgement of the current presidential administration, particularly given his apparent support for the country’s troops. “I watched and listened to President Trump… when he was on the campaign trail and even afterward for the support for the military,” she said. But the freeze has pushed her over the edge.
“I am outraged over the current situation,” she said.
Bangura herself is a disabled veteran, having been discharged for medical reasons after serving for 11 and a half years in the Army. “Working for the federal government as a… civilian has permitted me to pick up where I left off after my medical discharge,” she said.
“If you have support for the military, I would think that he has to understand these service members have families,” she added. “You’re not thinking about the family that’s left behind when this military member has to go off and do great things.”