FEDweek

Opposition to Freeze Voiced, but Little Chance for Impact

Reaction to President Trump’s federal hiring freeze memo fell along lines that had been drawn as far back as last fall when Trump made the freeze a part of his campaign’s policy priorities for its first 100 days. Federal unions and many Democrats in Congress denounced it as bad management and as potentially wasteful, once again citing a GAO report critical of similar freezes during the Carter and Reagan administration. However, the new freeze differs in an important way regarding the cost, by barring agencies from hiring contractors to make up for the lost in-house capacity. Republicans were generally supportive but several expressed reservations about the impact on positions in high demand that the government already has trouble filling, such as in cybersecurity. However, imposing a hiring freeze is at a President’s discretion and there is little that those outside the administration can do in response. One focus could be a look back at what agencies did between the election and the Inauguration. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, already has asked major agencies for details of their hiring in recent months, suggesting that agencies rushed to fill positions in advance of the expected freeze. He cited an increase in vacancy announcements on USAJobs of 16 percent in the last two months of 2016 compared with a year earlier–some of which with open periods as short as two weeks including holidays–and noted that more than half of the jobs available in the Washington, D.C., area were open only to current federal employees. However, it is unclear what Congress might do in response, unless there was some improper aspect of a hiring, such as an improper “burrowing in” conversion of a political appointee to career status.