Changing Reality for Federal Employees

Is the federal hiring freeze over? Not really. New priorities will impact hiring and restructuring of federal agencies.

The federal government’s hiring freeze is over. The end of the freeze was announced on April 12th.

Did the Hiring Freeze End Throughout Government?

As is often the case, what you read is not necessarily reality in some agencies.

The reality is that in a number of agencies the freeze is still in effect. It is not necessarily a freeze in effect throughout entire agencies; it may only be applicable in portions of an agency. Some programs will presumably be eliminated, phased out or ignored. For those programs, it would not make sense to hire new employees.

For example, one reader has commented that portions of the Department of Health and Human Services are still effectively under a hiring freeze. The Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors are also still refraining from hiring new employees. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also not hiring new employees for some positions within the agency. Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will be taking steps to reduce staff levels within the agency. (See Buyouts, Early Outs and Federal Employees)

The Border Patrol and some other portions of the Department of Homeland Security are planning to increase hiring in some areas and looking at altering qualification requirements to hire more people more quickly.

Looking at the Bigger Picture in Government

In a bigger picture, the hiring freeze was just an initial attempt to immediately slow the growth of government. In part, it is political theatre. It shows the President is serious about making changes. It also gives the new administration a chance to start setting new priorities within the federal bureaucracy.

From reading articles in the press, one would think that very little is being done or accomplished by the Trump administration. There have certainly been delays in some areas, particularly those that require Congressional action. Many of the more significant actions are easily dismissed in the press which is focusing on tax reform, health care and building a wall along the Mexican border.

But, for federal employees, a number of actions are occurring that will impact agencies and the employees working there. The administration’s priorities are become more clear, if there was any confusion to begin with, as new guidance is issued to federal agencies.

Short Term Actions for Long Term Impact

On March 13th, the President issued an Executive Order directing OMB to submit a comprehensive plan to reorganize the Executive Branch of the federal government. President Trump also issued a budget blueprint that clearly conveys which agencies will win and which agencies will lose if the priorities of the administration are reflected in the 2018 fiscal year budget. (See Trump’s Budget Proposes Significant Cuts to Federal Agencies)

For any employees who may have still had doubts about new priorities, the directive from the Office of Management and Budget issued on April 12th should clarify any remaining confusion.

When agencies submit their plans to OMB by June 30, 2017 for restructuring, reducing the federal workforce and maximizing employee performance, we will be able to gauge how the administration will proceed with new executive orders, directives to agencies and their Congressional agenda.

So far, the administration is following a strategic plan to make longer term, lasting changes in the structure of government through a combination of actions.

The Trump administration is serious about cutting the size and budget for the federal government. It has not tried to rush into implementing new programs. It is aiming for a significant impact to make the federal government more effective and efficient in the long term by getting ideas for change from agencies. Presumably, the administration will work with agency management to implement the ultimate changes but the broader strategy is becoming apparent.

Desire to Reward High Performing Employees

And, as several authors have recently pointed out, there will be a serious attempt to reward higher performing employees in government and to weed out lower performing employees. (Also, see More on OMB Directive M-17-22: Important Nuggets for the ER/LR Community)

For those who have worked for the federal government for a number of years, this is a sense of deja vu extending at least as far back as the Carter and Clinton administrations. Many would say there was a lot of hot air but, ultimately, little in the way of actual change in rewarding high performing employees and weeding out low performing federal employees. Perhaps the lack of success in those administrations is just a harbinger of what will occur under the Trump administration.

Hurdles and Incentives for Making Changes

Whether the Trump administration will be successful in overcoming hurdles to change will depend on obstacles posed by federal employee unions, effectiveness of the “deep state” within government, the inability to implement changes in Congress or unwillingness of federal agency management to alter current management practices that are firmly entrenched.

Vice-President Mike Pence has been down a similar road in the past in changing state government in Indiana. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has had similar success in that state. Whether their success provides incentive for similar actions at the federal level remains to be seen. So far at least, the early indications are the actions taken will try to emulate some of what has occurred in these states.

The impact on federal employees will be significant in some agencies. If the changes are for better or worse may depend on the agency, how a person’s career is impacted or an individual’s political beliefs. Having worked for and survived administrations as disparate and with political upheavals from Richard Nixon through Barack Obama, most readers will survive, probably thrive, and eventually forget about the “traumatic” political changes introduced by the latest “new” administration.

It is likely those employees willing to go along with the new programs will be happier and more successful than those losing sleep and fretting over the latest political intrigue. Those opposing policies through various “alt” groups on Twitter and elsewhere will surely disagree. (See Another FOIA Lawsuit for the EPA and Is the Federal Bureaucracy Facing a ‘Deep State’ Purge?)

My advice: Pay attention to changes going on, prepare to adapt and react accordingly to enhance your chosen career, and continue to invest in the Thrift Savings Plan regardless of personal political beliefs. In the long run, most readers will get to enjoy retirement and those that invest wisely will have more options. The short term political changes will often be forgotten in the long term.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47