The Trump administration’s policies on its general hiring freeze leave decisions on specifically which jobs fall under the public safety or national security exceptions in the hands of individual agencies, which are starting to put out policies of their own–in some cases under pressure from Congress. The VA, the second-largest agency, has interpreted the “public safety” exception to cover some 100 occupations, including not just front-line health care positions that make up most of its workforce, but also occupations including technician, security guard, food service, pest control, mechanic and cemetery laborer. That interpretation largely made moot proposals already introduced in Congress to totally exempt VA from the freeze. The largest, DoD, has indicated that it will release guidance soon; much of that department is expected to be carved out under the national security or public safety exceptions or both. A bipartisan group of senators for example has asked the DoD to exempt all shipyard workers on national security grounds out of concerns about delays to maintenance of Navy vessels. The third largest, DHS, similarly primarily consists of employees who could fall under those exceptions. In addition, separate immigration-related orders from Trump require the hiring of an additional 5,000 border patrol agents and an additional 10,000 immigration officers. Public safety and national security-based arguments also are being raised on behalf of various occupations common among many agencies, such as cybersecurity, firefighting and law enforcement, and agencies with health care responsibilities could extend the VA’s logic to cover comparable jobs. The CBO recently noted that based on the 2013 sequester and partial government shutdown when similar exceptions were allowed, all but about 800,000 of the overall non-postal workforce of 2.1 million qualified for exceptions.
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