Layoffs Ahead

The hiring freeze instituted by President Trump on Jan. 23 not only prevents federal agencies from filling most vacancies – it will actually result in some current employees losing their jobs. 

Thousands of civilian employees working under term or temporary appointments will be fired when their appointments end, under guidance issued Jan. 31 by the acting heads of the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management.  

Temporary limited employees can serve for one to two years, while term appointments can last from one to four years. Federal agencies will be allowed to retain employees only up to the maximum allowable time limit – meaning employees nearing the end of their appointments must be let go. 

There were more than 150,000 temporary limited employees and 9,000 term employees as of fiscal year 2000, according to a 2002 report from the Government Accountability Office.  

These employees work across the government, but primarily in the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, GAO said. 

In the Department of Defense, many of these employees work in positions that are vital to ensuring and maintaining our military readiness. They work on aircrafts, ships, and ground combat vehicles at depots and other facilities like Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, Red River Army Depot in Texas, Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex in Georgia, and Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania. 

DoD has issued a lengthy list of exemptions to the hiring freeze, although they are all on a position-by-position basis and require onerous reporting and justification requirements that could discourage broad use of the exemption authority. 

Additionally, although DoD exempts “positions in shipyards and depots in which positions incumbents perform direct management of inventory and direct maintenance of equipment,” the guidance leaves far too much uncertainty regarding depots and shipyards, which will likely have to expand in order to make good on President Trump’s pledge to increase the readiness of the Armed Services. Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and Ogden Air Logistics Complex already need to hire more than a thousand employees and Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex needs to hire nearly 350 additional aircraft employees alone, not counting commodities and other areas.  

“This hiring freeze will endanger the nation’s defense by diverting the military from their warfighting and training functions to do the work that civilian employees were hired to do,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said. 

In 2015, the Washington Post reported on a GAO finding that Army drone pilots were not getting needed training because too much of their time was diverted to performing work previously performed by civilians or contractors, such as guard duty, janitorial services, and mowing lawns. Freezing civilian hiring will exacerbate these issues. 

While agency heads can exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that are deemed necessary to meet national security and public safety responsibilities, there’s little doubt that this freeze will have a disruptive and potentially damaging impact on the federal government’s ability to carry out its mission. 

Hiring freezes mandated by Presidents Carter and Reagan ended up costing taxpayers more because agencies hired contractors to fill civilian vacancies, GAO reported. Even though President Trump’s hiring freeze says contractors should not be used to circumvent the freeze, that direction is difficult if not impossible to enforce because there’s scant data available to monitor the existing use of contractors and prevent agencies from illegally contracting out civilian jobs. 

The Army is the only federal agency that, up until 2016, had maintained a comprehensive inventory of all functions performed by contractors and government workers and is also the only agency with a checklist for helping managers screen out illegal contracts prior to them being awarded. Government budgets do not capture the full array of contracted functions that are also performed by civilian employees, and funding audits do not necessarily reflect where the contracts are actually performed and the number of contract employees doing the work. 

The DoD implementing guidance is inconsistent with language contained in the OMB guidance. The OMB guidance prohibits any use of contractors to compensate for vacancies occasioned by the hiring freeze. In contrast, the DoD guidance improperly suggests that the contracting freeze should only be applied to newly awarded or modified contracts that obligate “funds that are above established organizational baselines.” This is a clear attempt to circumvent OMB’s guidance and should be immediately rescinded.  

The Army checklist will preclude this problem because its language is geared to the very strong statutory prohibition in Title 10 U.S. Code section 2461. AFGE will stand firm to ensure that civilian jobs are not transferred.  

The Department of Veterans Affairs has carved out nearly 100 occupations that will be exempt from the hiring freeze, mostly those involved with direct patient care at VA medical facilities. But no benefits positions were exempted, meaning veterans could face even longer waits to get claims approved or to determine their eligibility for medical care. 

“Hiring freezes are not good for our employees, for our agencies, or for our country,” Cox said. “Every day this hiring freeze continues is another day in which an out-of-work veteran remains unemployed, a critical vacancy goes unfilled, backlogs grow longer, and the American people suffer.”


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