Trump’s Directive Will Lift Hiring Freeze, as It Asks Agencies for Cuts
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday will lift the hiring freeze that it had imposed on the federal work force, even as it directs agencies to submit plans for personnel cuts and other restructuring moves to fit the budget blueprint released by President Trump last month.
The new guidance, to be issued by the Office of Management and Budget, is the next step in fulfilling Mr. Trump’s ambition to reshape the federal bureaucracy into a lean, businesslike operation. It comes as many federal workers across Washington have feared that their jobs will be eliminated by the spending cuts that Mr. Trump has demanded.
“This is a big part of draining the swamp,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said at a briefing on Tuesday afternoon. “This is a centerpiece to his campaign.”
In January, Mr. Trump ordered an across-the-board employment freeze for the federal government, halting hiring for all new and existing positions except those in national security, public safety and the military. The administration is now making clear that it is not giving a green light for agencies to start hiring; instead, the White House is seeking long-term plans from each agency to, in most cases, prepare for cuts.
The 2018 budget outline that Mr. Trump released last month called for a 10 percent increase in military spending to be paid for with deep cuts to the budgets of the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services and other domestic programs.
The guidance that will be issued on Wednesday asks agencies to begin taking immediate steps to achieve the reductions to their work forces. Agencies will also be required to develop plans by June 30 to “maximize employee performance.” By mid-September, they must come back to the administration with longer-term plans.
But Congress holds the purse strings that dictate how executive branch agencies are funded. Republicans and Democrats across Congress viewed many of the cuts proposed in Mr. Trump’s budget outline as nonstarters.
The White House and Congress are also facing looming budget battles this year that could potentially cause the government to partially shut down. The current funding bill expires on April 28, and the government faces an October deadline to determine 2018 funding.
Mr. Mulvaney acknowledged that changes made to the structures of government agencies by executive authority are not as enduring as those made legislatively. But he said he was optimistic Congress would get on board with the president’s vision.
“We’re hopeful to be able to have congressional buy-in to get some of this accomplished,” Mr. Mulvaney said.
Getting buy-in from Democrats could be difficult. They have been critical of Mr. Trump’s hiring freeze, pointing to backlogs of benefits claims for veterans and delayed Social Security checks as evidence that streamlining the government can be perilous to the public.
Last month, two Democratic senators, Gary Peters of Michigan and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office, asking that it study the impact of Mr. Trump’s hiring freeze on government spending. Previous hiring freezes put in effect by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, they noted, ended up creating additional costs.
Morale among government employees has also been a concern this year, as workers have had to deal with uncertainty about their job security and the stress of sweeping changes coming to their departments. It was not immediately clear how many federal jobs are currently vacant.
Mr. Mulvaney said government workers should not take the White House’s promises to “deconstruct the administrative state” as a sign that they are not appreciated.
“The president wants to reward good employees,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “He’s a great boss to work for, and he wants to reward people who do a good job.”
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