President-elect Donald Trump won’t be saying you’re fired, but he will be saying you’re froze as a one means of shrinking the bureaucracy.
Trump has pledged to reduce the federal workforce through attrition, and leaving positions unfilled through a hiring freeze.
It’s part of his first 100-day plan that he first laid out during his Oct. 22 speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He said the freeze would exempt military, public safety, and public health personnel.
The hiring freeze doesn’t offer many details, but would likely be similar to a hiring freeze by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
“If the president’s priority is really to drain the swamp, personnel is the place to start,” Robert Moffit says.
“It’s smart for the Trump administration to do this in the first 100 days to let the bureaucracy know you’re there,” Donald Devine, who served as Reagan’s director of the Office of Personnel Management, told The Daily Signal. “Reagan did it and it lasted for a couple of months.”
Reagan’s first act after he was sworn in was signing a memorandum telling heads of executive departments to enforce a “strict freeze” on civilian federal employees. He reportedly was so eager, that he signed it before leaving the Capitol grounds.
“The purpose under Reagan was to reduce the workforce by 100,000 nondefense employees,” Devine said. “There were some firings, but it was 90 percent through attrition.”
President Jimmy Carter also had three hiring freezes, but were smaller in scale than Reagan’s freeze.
The hiring freeze is part of Trump’s six-point plan to reform Washington that includes initiatives to amend the Constitution to limit congressional terms, curbing regulation, and limiting the influence of lobbyists, all of which Trump said he would propose on his first day in office.
Some of these measures would require congressional action. However, a hiring freeze can be done through executive action.
The Daily Signal reached out to two federal unions, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees. Neither responded by the time of this posting.
Federal Managers Association President Renee Johnson expressed her opposition to the freeze in a post-election statement congratulating Trump. The organization represents 200,000 supervisors in the federal government.
“As a candidate, President-elect Trump proposed a government-wide hiring freeze on his first day on the job, as well as attrition,” Johnson said. “[Federal Managers Association] has opposed arbitrary attrition policies in the past and notes the severe negative impact that a reduction of resources has had on services at agencies across the federal government.”
A 1982 audit by the Government Accountability Office (then the General Accounting Office) asserted the Carter and Reagan hiring freezes failed to save money.
“Any potential savings produced by these freezes would be partially or completely offset by increasing overtime, contracting with private firms, or using other than full-time permanent employees,” the 1982 GAO report said. “Decreased debt and revenue collections also occurred as a result of hiring freezes.”
The Reagan hiring freeze was successful, as a package with other efforts, in reigning in the federal workforce, contends Robert Moffit, senior fellow for health policy studies at The Heritage Foundation and a former assistant director of congressional relations at OPM during the Reagan administration.
“The hiring freeze was successful under Reagan,” Moffit told The Daily Signal. “If the president’s priority is really to drain the swamp, personnel is the place to start. Inspectors general can be a tremendous asset to a new administration as they were during the Reagan administration.”
He said that after the Obama administration, there should be an investigation into personnel matters at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, the Justice Department, and the Department of Health and Human Services. He noted that the Reagan administration launched some department probes.
Moffit stressed an effective OPM will be key to reforming Washington.
“He will need a very strong OPM director that will hold civil service bureaucrats accountable, but will also protect the career bureaucrats from political appointees,” Moffit said.
Trump hasn’t announced an OPM director. However, he named Paul T. Conway, who worked in the George W. Bush administrations, to head up his OPM landing team as part of the transition. Conway served as chief of staff for Bush OPM Director Kay Coles James and was chief of staff to Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
Moffit had no predictions or preference for the next OPM director.
“Trump needs to make sure the civil servants obey the new leaders on implementing policy. But there is a big threat to the civil service when the big thick red line is crossed,” Moffit said. “There has to be a clear division between political appointees and civil service employees.”