Non-permanent employees could bear much of the initial brunt of the Trump administration’s planned reduction in federal jobs, but history shows that permanent positions would be on the line as well. One provision in the hiring freeze memo allows agencies to continue temporary and term appointments until the end of the current agreements but not to extend them; temporary appointments generally last up to two years while term appointments generally last up to four, with provisions for extending each kind. The hiring freeze memo is due to be overtaken in a matter of months by an OPM-OMB joint plan, still to be written, to reduce the workforce long-run. That plan most likely will set a percentage reduction goal over a period of time while continuing many of the memo’s elements–including its restriction on extending non-permanent positions as well as exempting certain positions on grounds of national security or public safety. The last time there was a significant effort to cut spending on the federal workforce was in 2013, due to the “sequestration” budget limits, when agencies looked first to non-permanent positions. During that fiscal year, overall executive branch employment outside the Postal Service and intelligence agencies fell by 43,000 to 2,067,000, including a drop in non-permanent positions from 168,000 to 144,000. In other words, while those positions made up only about 8 percent of the workforce, they accounted for nearly 60 percent of the jobs cut. Non-permanent employment has crept back up by only about 2,000 since then, making that sector less able to absorb the brunt of a coming downsizing drive. Another complication of looking to such positions for cutting is that many involve duties that could fall under the national security or public safety exceptions to the hiring freeze. For example, DoD commonly uses such appointments to staff up for special projects or spikes in workload in its supply depots and shipyards and other repair facilities. Given that the freeze memo bars hiring contractors to take up the slack of vacated positions–a ban the long-term policy could continue–a conflict could lie ahead between agency mission needs and the downsizing initiative.
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