Although the general government-wide hiring freeze has been lifted–it lasted about as long as a similar freeze ordered in the early days of the Reagan administration–agencies already are showing signs that they will remain sparing in their hiring in the face of pending budgetary restrictions and a directive to reform their operations and reduce the federal workforce.
The OMB memo that both ended the general freeze and directed the reform effort left staffing decisions largely in the hands of individual agencies. However, it reminded them that a draft budget plan issued in March, to be followed by a more detailed budget next month, projects substantial cuts in many agencies.
One of those targeted, the State Department, has announced that it is keeping a general hiring freeze in place, with exceptions for certain national security-related positions. Others could follow suit or at least remain restrictive, until there’s more clarity regarding their available funding for the fiscal year that starts in October. Final decisions on the fiscal 2018 budget aren’t likely until sometime in the fall.
Continued restrictions on hiring affect the existing workforce by leaving more work for the remaining employees and by limiting their opportunities for advancement. The OMB memo further stresses that as positions become vacant through attrition, agencies should review whether they could have the work performed by lower-level employees, further hampering advancement opportunities of current employees.
On the workforce reduction side of the order, agencies were told that they can start eliminating current vacancies immediately. While the administration has remained neutral on use of early retirement and buyout incentive payments to boost attrition, it did send a signal of sorts in promising that OPM will “provide expedited reviews for most requests within 30 days.”
In general, agencies other than DoD need OPM’s permission to offer the incentives; DoD doesn’t, but given its prospects for budgetary growth it is unlikely to use them except possibly for internal restructuring.
Offers of buyouts and early outs commonly are made together, although there is no formal requirement. From a budgetary standpoint, buyouts make the most sense to an agency early in the fiscal year, giving them time to recoup the up-front costs within that year by not filling the vacancy created.