fedweek.com - trump and the federal workforce

Donald Trump has defeated Hillary Clinton in arguably the biggest upset in US presidential election history. As with the “Brexit” vote that this election has been compared to, the polls and the political pundits seem to have got it wrong.

Trump vowed, “I will be president for all Americans.” Hillary Clinton called to congratulate him in the early morning hours. Later on Wednesday in her concession speech, Clinton asked Americans to “give him a chance” and wished him a successful term.

As with any Presidential transition, change is in store for the government, but exactly what this means for the federal workforce remains unclear since Trump and his campaign have not given much detail on his plans, although it seems likely that employment protections making it difficult to fire workers and the overall size of the workforce will be in the crosshairs.

Trump, in October, as part of a “100 day action plan” pledged to immediately get to work on putting in place a hiring freeze “to reduce the federal workforce through attrition, exempting military, public safety, and public health.”

His campaign has said a smaller workforce would make it tougher to conceal corruption, but Republicans in Congress have long floated workforce reductions in budget plans to cut costs and they now have the White House.

House speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for example, has previously called for a 10 percent reduction to the federal workforce through attrition, arguing it would save $49 billion over ten years.

In a fiscal 2015 budget proposal Ryan floated the idea of replacing just one worker for every three that leaves government service, as well as the elimination of student-loan repayments for government employees, and increases to the share of retirement benefits that employees must pay for (a de facto pay reduction).

Regardless of whether Ryan stays in his current role, similar ideas have been advanced by others in recent years and could now come to the fore, along with renewed vigor for performance-based pay systems.

Hiring freezes and workforce reductions are far from straight forward though, and it remains to be seen how exactly all this could unfold. For one thing, the size of the federal workforce has been getting smaller as a percentage of the overall workforce for some time now. “In absolute numbers, the federal workforce is roughly the same size it was 40 years ago, even as the U.S. population has increased nearly 50 percent during that time period,” according to the Partnership for Public Service.

Recent furloughs and hiring freezes at the IRS and Social Security administration have led to a reduction in customer service capacity, and when GAO studied hiring freezes in 1982 it concluded they don’t actually reduce employment levels and don’t necessarily save money.

It does not appear that reductions would happen across the board, however. Trump has also called for bolstering Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the US Border Patrol, as well as restoring hundreds of billions in military cuts, for example.

One area where reductions could take place is in Obama political appointees – specifically preventing them from “burrowing in” – the long-standing practice of converting to career appointments when a term is up. Trump ally Gov. Chris Christie, R-NJ, who until recently has been leading Trump’s transition team, reportedly told donors of plans to change civil service law with an eye on purging Obama appointees. Christie has been replaced by VP-elect Mike Pence as the transition team lead.