In Focus: Hiring Freeze Rattles Federal Workforce

By Allen Smith, J.D. Feb 10, 2017
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A federal hiring freeze is not an unheard-of step at the beginning of a new administration as it sets its leadership priorities. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan froze federal hiring until their teams got a handle on the federal bureaucracy. But a hiring freeze can agitate the federal workforce, as key positions go unfilled despite previous approvals to fill them. President Donald Trump halted hiring by the federal government for 90 days with limited exceptions on Jan. 23. 

Here is a roundup of how that action is affecting the federal workforce across the country:

Pentagon Issues List of Exempted Positions

The Pentagon has listed exceptions to the hiring freeze, issuing a memorandum that outlines exempt civilian Department of Defense positions. Military personnel already are exempt from the hiring freeze. (CNBC)

Hiring Freeze's Effect on Researchers

Other agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have issued guidance on possible exemptions. But notices to researchers that their positions have been frozen for an indefinite period of time have led to confusion about how the freeze will affect federal workers. (Huffington Post)

Freeze Doesn't Apply to Promotions

In general, the hiring freeze is not supposed to apply to internal career ladder promotions, which is good news for anyone in a job with promotion potential, according to Jeffrey Neal, former chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security. (FCW and The White House). Anecdotally, however, some federal employees are reporting that their promotions have been put on hold due to the freeze.

90-Day Hiring Freeze

The hiring freeze lasts for 90 days. Within that time, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), must recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal government's workforce through attrition. The hiring freeze will expire upon implementation of the OMB plan. (The White House)

Already There Is Some Attrition

Out of a federal workforce of just under 2.1 million, turnover in the federal workforce has averaged about 210,000 jobs a year over the past five years. (The Washington Post)

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Freeze Opposed

The outgoing acting director of the OPM cautioned against an across-the-board hiring freeze, saying it gets in the way of delivering services and prevents making smart decisions about where those people are needed. (The Washington Post)

More than One in Four Considering Leaving Their Jobs

The federal hiring freeze may make it difficult for federal workers to perform their jobs, as more than one in four federal workers are considering leaving their jobs during the Trump administration, according to one survey. (The Washington Times)

 

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