In announcing the hiring freeze, the White House termed the action a cost-saving move in response to what a press release called the “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years and the costs attendant to that expansion. The federal workforce has expanded significantly during the last two Administrations, from approximately 1.8 million federal civilian employees during the Clinton administration to approximately 2.1 million as of 2016 (an approximately 17 percent increase).” Much of the attention to the announcement focused on parsing out the specifics of workforce levels over that time, and in particular noting that most of that increase occurred during the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, and that across both presidencies, the growth was largely concentrated in law enforcement, homeland security and national security positions–types of governmental functions that Trump has consistently supported. However, the announcement in drawing attention to the benefits costs associated with federal employment may have sent the strongest signal yet that the Trump team is interested in cutting costs to the government in two key programs, FEHB health insurance and retirement. It said: “Meanwhile, federal employee health and retirement benefits continue to be based on antiquated assumptions and require a level of generosity long since abandoned by most of the private sector. Those costs are unsustainable for the federal government, just as they are proving to be unsustainable for state and local governments with similar health and retirement packages.” Some Republicans in Congress and the conservative community have pushed for years for basic changes to both programs, which have been largely–although not completely–thwarted by Democrats. While no such formal proposals have been raised yet in the current administration and Congress, specific plans are expected to be introduced soon, possibly in the context of upcoming budget proposals.
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