Jan 23, 2017

Trump Signs Order to Freeze Federal Hiring

By Eric Katz | Government Executive 1/23/2017

President Trump on Monday followed through on a campaign promise to freeze federal hiring, issuing an executive order that would prohibit the onboarding of new civilians.

Trump did not elaborate on the new policy as he signed it in the Oval Office, saying only “except for the military” to reporters gathered in the White House. As part of his “contract with the American Voter,” Trump said in October he would institute an immediate freeze with exceptions only for members of the military, public safety and public health.

It was not immediately clear how the administration would define those exemptions, or if they still apply.

Trump followed in President Ronald Reagan’s footsteps, who signed a hiring freeze on his first day in office in 1981. President Jimmy Carter also froze federal hiring three times over his four years in office.

In a subsequent speech on the campaign trail, Trump said the hiring freeze would apply to “non-essential” personnel, perhaps a reference to the phrasing commonly used to describe which federal employees are sent home during government shutdowns. In 2013, about 900,000 employees, or 43 percent of the federal workforce, was subject to furloughs.

Opponents of the policy have said a hiring freeze not only disrupts government operations and delays services to citizens, but it also may not even be an effective way to reduce costs. A 1982 General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) report on Reagan and Carter’s hiring freezes found the policy was not an “effective means” of controlling federal employment “regardless of how well managed.”
GAO said: “The government-wide hiring freezes had little effect on federal employment levels and it is not known whether they saved money. Because they ignored individual agencies' missions, workload and staffing requirements, these freezes disrupted agency operations and, in some cases, increased costs to the government.”

Rather than reducing the cost on labor overall, the auditors found the administration developed “alternative sources” to get work done that increased spending.

“Any potential savings produced by these freezes would be partially or completely offset by increasing overtime, contracting with private firms, or using other than full-time permanent employees,” GAO said. “Decreased debt and revenue collections also occurred as a result of hiring freezes.”

A governmentwide hiring freeze fails to take into account actual workload, GAO said, and employee reduction should instead be “targeted to where it can best be absorbed.”

Federal employee unions have blasted Trump’s plan, saying it was unnecessary, detrimental and illustrative of the president elect’s lack of understanding of how government works.

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