January 27, 2017

What The Hiring Freeze Means For Federal Workers And Local D.C.

By Avery Kleinman

President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump

On his first Monday in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum freezing the hiring of federal employees, with the exception of the public safety and public health sectors and military personnel. The move comes as no surprise–  it was part of his “Contract with the American Voter” for his first 100 days in office.

In the aftermath of Trump’s win, The Kojo Nnamdi Show discussed the potential impact of a hiring freeze on the Washington region and what the Trump presidency may mean for federal workers more broadly. The following is an edited excerpt of the conversation between Kojo, Partnership for Public Service president Max Steier and Government Executive correspondent Eric Katz:

Kojo: What impact would a hiring freeze have on current federal workers and their ability to do their jobs?

Max Steier: It wouldn’t be the right way to run the railroad, let me put it that way. There’s substantial history on this, not just Reagan but also Carter tried this. GAO studied the attempted freezes and found that they actually were counterproductive. I think it’s a superficially attractive notion that really fundamentally is not the way to address the challenges in our government.

There are more individuals in the IT department over the age of 65 than under the age of 30. There are only 6 percent of federal workers under the age of 30. We already have a workforce that is challenged in terms of its generational diversity. There are professions where we are desperately in need of new talent, like the cyber area. So, hiring freezes are a blunt and frankly destructive way of trying to achieve something. So I think the real question is what’s the goal here, and I’m confident the goal is to deliver better outcomes for the American public and I think there are a whole bunch of things that could happen and I hope to see a Trump administration that could actually deliver on that. A hiring freeze is not the way to go about it.

Kojo: You seem to be suggesting that rather than impose a hiring freeze, he might do better actually going out and trying to recruit younger federal workers?

Max: We actually have a federal workforce that is the same size in numbers as the Kennedy administration, when we now have 100 million more Americans and the federal government is doing a lot more stuff.

If you look at the federal workforce- already in the national security arena, you’ve got a third of the workforce at DOD, 20 percent at VA. You really quickly see the large numbers of the federal workforce are about our national security, taking care of veterans, so there’s not a lot of room to actually cut or freeze that workforce without some pretty fundamental challenges.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the smarter course would be to reshape the workforce to get great talent in, to fix the hiring process, to get leaders in who care about management and investing in workers so that they can deliver more for the American public. We do have a civil service system that was built in 1949 that’s got to be revisited. There’s a lot of change that needs to happen. And I think that we will see and I hope that we will see more comprehensive and better solutions as the Trump folks better understand the federal government and that process needs to take place.

Kojo: Eric, how might a hiring freeze on federal employees impact the local economy and the local job market?

Eric: The federal workforce is a big part of the D.C. economy but its also important to note that 85 percent of the federal workforce is spread out outside of the capital region. People like to think of, and Trump talked a lot about on the campaign trail, “the bureaucracy in Washington”- that’s a convenient euphemism but it’s not representative of where federal employees are based.

That being said, so much of the D.C. economy is derived not just from federal employees but also federal contractors, some of whom are actually pretty excited about what the Trump presidency could mean for their prospects. We’ve reported on the fact that defense contractors’ stocks have been soaring since Trump got elected because he’s talked about boosting spending there, so you could have a mixed bag.

Later in the broadcast, a number of listeners called in to share their first-hand perspectives on a hiring freeze. 

 Kojo: I’d like to go to the phones because a couple of callers want to talk about the same thing, contractors. Here’s Nicole in Riverdale, Maryland

Nicole: Hiring freezes are not necessarily what they sound like because I was hired during the Reagan hiring freeze in 1983. I was hired as a temporary clerk typist and then transferred to become a permanent employee six months later, so a freeze is not necessarily a freeze.

Kojo: I think R.J. in Washington may have a question or comment along similar lines. R.J., go ahead please.

R.J.: I’m actually part of the 6 percent of the federal workforce under 30. My comment is similar to the other caller. The hiring freeze doesn’t actually freeze the hiring in government. Agencies end up hiring more contractors. It’s a workaround. At one of my previous agencies contractors outnumbered feds about 4 to 1 which, between the on boarding and hired cost of contractors, the agency ends up spending more money than if they were allowed to hire federal employees.


You can listen to the whole conversation between Kojo, Max and Eric here. The Kojo Show also covered how the Trump transition was fueling federal workers worries, and we will continue to follow the story. In the meantime, what is your opinion on the hiring freeze and President Trump’s actions on the federal workforce? Comment below. 


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