Federal Manager's Daily Report

The government’s two largest departments in terms of employees, DoD and VA, have taken different tacks toward deciding which of their positions are to be exempt from the general federal hiring freeze.

The VA earlier had specified more than 100 occupations that it will exclude under its discretion. DoD more recently, though, announced that it is using functional standards based on the type of the work, leaving the choice of specific occupations to lower levels. Also, while the VA primarily cited the “public safety” exception to the freeze, DoD’s exclusions mostly will fall under the “national security” exception.

DoD said that department-wide functions qualifying for exceptions include, for example, those directly supporting active military operations; those required for cybersecurity, intelligence or space operations; positions involving direct medical care, communicable disease prevention and similar activities; and positions involved in enforcing treaties, providing child care to children of military personnel, and prevention of sexual assault, domestic violence or suicide, among others.

“This is an opportunity for the department to assess its most critical missions and requirements, ensuring that members of the civilian workforce are assigned and capable of executing the highest priority work,” DoD said in a statement.

“The secretary of defense expects that all members of the department will apply their best efforts in implementing the hiring freeze in accordance with the guidance. The department’s work will inform a government-wide plan to optimize the size of the federal civilian workforce and will best position the department to implement that plan for the long-term,” it added.

Neither department has specified how many positions its approach would exclude, but it could well be a substantial majority of their workforces. Together they exceed 1 million, around half of the executive branch outside the Postal Service and intelligence agencies; USPS is totally exempt because it is self-funding while nearly all intelligence agency positions would qualify under the national security exception.