By: Stephen Losey, Air Force Times

The Air Force Reserve Command on Monday said it is expanding its use of direct hiring authority in an effort to more quickly fill undermanned maintenance positions.

The command will use the expanded authority to recruit Air Reserve Technician maintenance personnel into jobs where they’re needed, according to an AFRC news release. This authority allows the Defense Department to recruit and appoint qualified people directly, without going through the typical competitive rating and ranking processes.

The Air Force has struggled in recent years to plug a serious shortfall of maintainers, which at one point ballooned to 4,000 vacant positions. On the active-duty side, the Air Force has all but closed that gap.

But, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said at a Heritage Foundation discussion last week that Guard and Reserve units are still facing shortfalls in their maintainer ranks.

If maintenance shortfalls linger, aircraft repairs can take longer, leading to problems with readiness.

“Hiring more maintainers enables increased aircraft availability and mission-capable rates,” Maj. Monica Lombardo, chief of maintenance force management for AFRC’s logistics, engineering and force protection directorate, said in the release. “More flyable aircraft translates to more pilot training and combat readiness on the operational side.”

Lisa Armes, chief of staffing for affirmative employment in AFRC’s manpower, personnel and services directorate, said in the release that the roughly 1,600 maintenance vacancies could be whittled down with the help of direct hire authority. And, she said, it could help jobs get filled in 60 to 80 days, instead of the 160 to 200 days it usually takes to fill an Air Reserve Technician job.

One unit even was able to make a job offer within 14 days using this authority, Armes said.

Air Reserve Technicians essentially wear two hats, working as both a full-time civil service employee in the Defense Department, and a reservist performing the same job in an Air Force Reserve Command unit. They are full-time civilian employees who are required to serve as members of the reserve one weekend a month, and train with their fellow reservists at least 14 days a year.

AFRC spokesman Sean Houlihan said that the direct hire authority would target recruitment of traditional reservists within 13 Reserve units. Hiring officials could use that authority to hire reservists without making the typical public job announcements through hiring sites like USA Jobs.

Houlihan said squadron leaders are talking directly with qualified traditional reservists about Air Reserve Technician maintenance opportunities that are available within their units. The reservists then submit a resume to be formally interviewed.

Direct hire authority “is a vital tool increasing the readiness and strategic depth of the Air Force Reserve, as well as the bigger Air Force’s push to revitalize the squadron to be ready for the future fight,” Houlihan said.

Armes said there are some traditional reservists who are interested in becoming Air Reserve Technicians and could do the job. But some of those interested reservists might not make the referral certificate due to a lack of deployment or other experience issues, even though they otherwise have the necessary skills.

Maintenance units at 13 bases will have priority to use the authority until April 30, allowing the Air Force Personnel Center to adjust. Those bases are: Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Carswell Air Force Base, Texas; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania; Beale Air Force Base, California; Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana; Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; March Air Reserve Base, California; and Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana,

Beginning in May, all units will have equal priority in submitting and processing their hiring packages.