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​Troy Davis, 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Support Squadron painter, prepares for sanding work on an RQ-4 Global Hawk, which was the first to fly into an air logistics complex. Air Force photo by Tommie Horton.

​The head of the Air Force Sustainment Center told House legislators on Thursday the service is struggling to recruit the talent it needs to ensure success in future fights, and he called on Congress to expand direct hiring authorities.

“The defense industrial base is brittle. We find an ever-diminishing vendor base for sustaining our platforms. The workforce underpinning the industrial base is also brittle, and we face increasing challenges recruiting the kind of talent our force simply must have for the future,” AFSC commander Lt. Gen. Lee Levy told the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. “A fifth-generation Air Force must have a fifth-generation workforce.”

He emphasized that the depots simply could not function without its civilian workforce. Of the 43,000 airmen assigned to the sustainment center, he said, 70 percent are civilians. However, the Defense Department is competing against the private sector for talent, and rules that require a 180-day “cooling off period” before retired military personnel can come work for the depots make it difficult for DOD to take the lead in that competition.

Many of these retired airmen are forced to seek other employment opportunities during this time period because they have a mortgage and/or a family to support, and “we lose the opportunity to get them,” said Levy.

And though Levy thanked Congress for the expedited and direct hiring authorities DOD does have, he likened it to being able to direct-hire a quarterback, but not the rest of the team. “I need all of the team in order to be successful,” he said.

Changing such authorities could not only make it easier to address the growing pilot shortage, but it also would allow the service to tackle shortages in software engineers and jet engine mechanics, among other specialties.

“The expansion of that” would allow us to “achieve the kind of velocity in our hiring system and bring those permanent civilian airmen onto our team and keep them there,” which Levy said, “is essential for us to generate combat power for our fifth-generation Air Force.”