Hiring Freeze Only the First Step in Planned Federal Job Cutting

Low angled view of the U.S. Capitol East Facade Front in Washington, DC.

The general hiring freeze ordered Monday by President Trump is designed as only the first step in a larger effort to reduce the size of the federal workforce–by a percentage and over a time period that are undefined. The memo barred filling any vacancies in the executive branch that existed as of noon Sunday (January 22)–not, as was erroneously reported by some, only positions becoming vacant after that–and further bars creation of new positions “except in limited circumstances,” also not specified. It does not cancel any hiring finalized before that point even if the individual was not yet on board. Agencies further may reassign current employees “to meet the highest priority needs and to ensure that essential services are not interrupted and national security is not affected.” Also, the filling of politically appointive positions is to continue and active duty military personnel are not affected. The memo does not specify how long the general freeze is to stay in effect; most past ones, including the one President Reagan imposed that is seen as a model for the present one, lasted only several months. However, it ordered OPM and OMB to produce within 90 days “a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition.” Past proposals for long-term workforce reductions have called, for example, for filling only one of every three vacancies outside of positions that are exempt until the workforce is reduced by 10 percent, which they have projected would take four or five years. The hiring freeze memo is to “expire upon implementation” of that plan.