Among the several executive orders President Donald Trump signed on day one was his Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, Subject: Hiring Freeze. Here’s what it means for the Federal service, as well as those already in Federal service who were looking to move over or up within the system.
While the first sentence of the memorandum announces that the freeze applies “across the board in the executive branch,” there are several exceptions specifically outlined, as well as some possible exceptions that department heads could conceivably apply. For instance, the freeze does not apply to military personnel.
The memorandum grants an exception, as well, for civil servants “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” Heads of departments and agencies have the authority to make those exceptions. I suspect that beyond the Department of Defense, then, we could see exceptions granted for the 17 intelligence agencies across government. “In addition,” the memorandum explains, “the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) may grant exemptions from this freeze where those exemptions are otherwise necessary.”
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Finally, of course, President Trump makes clear that the executive order does not bar hiring that would violate established law, collective bargaining agreements with unions, or hiring associated with senate confirmation or political appointment, a vast number of which are still to be filled.
Anticipating federal agency end run around the hiring freeze by outsourcing functions to contractors, the memorandum specifically states that “Contracting outside the Government to circumvent the intent of this memorandum shall not be permitted.” Further, agencies can’t avoid the freeze by way of a budget or resourcing argument, since the order “applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding.”
However, as powerful as that outsourcing bar sounds, Government Executive’s Eric Katz points out, “Similar provisions were included in OMB guidance implementing freezes put into place by presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, though the Government Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) found agencies frequently ignored the guidance and circumvented the intent of the moratorium by hiring contractors anyway. That, in part, led to the federal government saving very little money through the freeze . . . .”
President Trump’s hiring freeze is not a short-term measure meant to send a message to federal agencies and the American people. In 90 days (about this time in April), the Office of Management and Budget is to “recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.”