OMB director Mick Mulvaney

The Trump administration has lifted the general federal hiring freeze it imposed as one of its first official actions, while releasing what it calls a “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce” that includes expectations of job cuts.

In a press briefing, OMB director Mick Mulvaney said that lifting the freeze “does not mean – and I’ve made this very clear to all of the agency heads, the deputy chiefs, et cetera, for the last couple of days – that does not mean that the agencies will be free to hire willy-nilly.”

“What we’re doing is replacing the across-the-board hiring freeze that we put into place on day one in office, and replacing it with a smarter plan, a more strategic plan, a more surgical plan. And what that means specifically is that, consistent with the President’s priorities in the budget, certain agencies will end up hiring more people. Other agencies will end up paring their FTEs even greater than they would have had during the hiring freeze,” he said.

The plan, which the hiring freeze memo called on OMB and OPM to produce by late this month, follows an executive order calling for a government reorganization that envisions eliminating and merging agency activities, components or even entire agencies. It also follows a preliminary budget document anticipating budget cuts – and resulting job cuts – at agencies other than DoD, DHS and the VA. A fuller budget proposal is expected in early May.

In the form of an OMB memo, the plan instructs agencies to “begin taking immediate actions to achieve near-term workforce reductions and cost savings, including planning for funding levels” included in that preliminary budget. And in September agencies are to submit a plan “that includes long-term workforce reductions” as part of their budget requests to OMB for the fiscal 2019 budget proposal that is to be released early next year; a preliminary version of those plans is due by June 30.

However, budgetary proposals must go through the congressional appropriations process, and already significant opposition has arisen to the White House’s plans, even in their preliminary form, to impose steep cuts on agencies including EPA, State, HHS and others in order to fund increases in spending for defense, homeland security and veterans. Decisions made in that process in turn translate into impacts on employment. Some reorganization steps similarly would require approval of Congress, although others would be within the administration’s discretion.