CBO ‘Budget Options’ Report Provides Starting Point for Cuts

The Congressional Budget Office has issued one of its occasional reports on potential budget cuts, once again mentioning several involving federal employee benefits. While the CBO does not formally endorse the options—which cover a wide range of government operations from defense hardware to space exploration—its listing carries weight on Capitol Hill because they would count as savings under congressional budget rules.

One option it lists that has been specifically endorsed by the incoming Trump administration is a general federal hiring freeze with exceptions for “military, public safety, and public health” functions. The CBO option would carve out similar exemptions for national security and mission-critical positions—meaning that about two-thirds of the executive branch would be exempt, it said, based on similar designations during the 2013 partial government shutdown.

Under the CBO option, agencies would be allowed to hire one employee for every three who leave and could not hire contractors as replacements. The result, it projected, would be a reduction of about 70,000 jobs over 10 years from the current workforce of about 2.1 million—a number that includes temporary, part-time and seasonal positions—for a 10-year saving in salary and benefits of $50 billion. (On the other hand, another option says that some 64,000 federal jobs could be created by converting positions from more expensive military personnel.)

The Trump campaign did not specify savings in personnel or money as the goal of its planned hiring freeze, though, rather saying the goal was to make it easier to find corrupt employees. The transition team has suggested that a freeze will be imposed soon after the Inauguration but has not specified what positions would be exempt, whether agencies would be allowed to partially back-fill, or whether hiring of contractors would be restricted.