President Donald Trump’s new federal hiring freeze could cause major problems for not only managers at the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense but also thousands of former servicemembers hoping to land government posts.
On Monday, in one of his first executive actions in the White House, Trump ordered “a freeze on the hiring of federal civilian employees to be applied across the board in the executive branch.” It applies to “all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding, excepting military personnel.”
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the move was a reaction to what the president sees as a frustration with the growth of federal bureaucracy.
“There's been, frankly, a lack of respect for taxpayer dollars in this town for a long time,” he said at a news conference Monday. “I think what the president is showing through the hiring freeze, first and foremost, is that we've got to respect the American taxpayer.
“Some people are working two, three jobs just to get by. And to see money get wasted in Washington on a job that is duplicative is insulting to the hard work that they do to pay their taxes.”
The order does not revoke any job offers already made by managers, and does contain exceptions for “any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.”
That could give the White House and Pentagon plenty of leeway to still hire key positions as they evaluate departures from the last administration.
In addition, the Office of Personnel Management can grant exemptions from the freeze upon request, but details on how that process would work have not been released.
Nearly 3,000 civilian Defense Department positions are currently listed in federal employment sites, along with almost 2,300 more Department of Veterans Affairs posts.
Administration officials could not say how many of those positions may be exempt, or how many other open jobs had not yet been listed formally before the announcement.
Veterans looking for work could be among the largest groups affected by the change, since they currently make up about one-third of the federal workforce, according to agency reports. More than 623,000 veterans are currently working in civilian federal posts, of the 2 million-person federal work force.
Veterans-hiring preferences and familiarity with VA and military issues make many of the posts attractive to former servicemembers.
And the federal government is among the biggest employers of disabled veterans, as well. About 15 percent of veterans working at VA and nearly 18 percent of veterans at the Defense Department are disabled.
Spicer said officials do not anticipate the freeze will hurt customer service or agency operations. He said agency landing teams are “talking about ways that we can create greater efficiencies, eliminate duplicity and maximize the tax dollar” without cutting programs.
But outside analysts have questioned whether those promises are realistic.
At a defense panel discussion Monday, Mark Cancian, senior adviser for at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Trump’s frequent insistence that cutting waste will create more than enough savings for program expansions is either naive or foolish.
“There really is no such thing as a management efficiency,” he said. “You can’t cut where you reduce the inputs and increase the outputs. Really when people talk about management efficiencies, they’re talking about cutting what they believe are lower priority programs.”
Trump’s order does allow agencies to move around some funding “to meet the highest priority needs and to ensure that essential services are not interrupted,” but also prohibits “contracting outside the government to circumvent the intent of this memorandum.”
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.