Q&A: Do you have questions about the Trump administration's federal hiring freeze?

Jan 26, 2017

As one of his first actions as president, Donald Trump implemented a federal hiring freeze on Monday. Trump had vowed to fight government corruption and waste, and this could be his first step in reshaping the government.

The hiring freeze would affect numerous federal workers and large swaths of the government, but leaves room for the exemption of those working in public safety, national security, and the military. You can read the full executive order here.

Numerous readers and federal workers have reached out to us in the days since the announcement with questions about what comes next. Here to answer some of those questions are Lisa Rein, who covers the federal workforce for The Washington Post, and Jeff Neal, the former chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

Here's some additional reading:

Trump freezes hiring of many federal workers

Federal hiring freeze will be waived for VA jobs with ‘public safety’ missions, agency says

Hi everyone - Lisa Rein and I are here to answer your questions on the hiring freeze and other workforce issues

We've gotten lot of questions from folks who have a job offer already. OMB guidance issued yesterday that says anyone with a firm offer and acceptance and a report date before Feb 22 should report to work as planned. If you do not have a firm date, or it is after Feb 22, the agency will review and decide on a case by case basis whether to proceed with the offer.

Hiring freeze apply for active federal employees moving to another agency/department?

There's been no official guidance from OMB on transfers, but since an internal move adds to an agency's payroll we are confident in assuming that transfers within government are not allowed under this freeze. 

So I'm currently a 12. Just interviewed for a 13 two weeks ago. If they hire from within can they still fill that position? It's not related to national security/public safety.

Most likely not. Most freezes restrict competitive promotions. OMB may address this one specifically in their next guidance. 

I am currently a job candidate for a federal position. I have never worked for the federal government before, and I interviewed for a position earlier this month. The position is not yet filled and I believe that I was still under consideration as of the signing of the order. Should I consider my application dead now?

Unfortunately, I think you're out of luck, sorry to say. Offers needed to be made by Jan. 22. But the freeze looks like it will be in place for 90 days , at which point we're likely to see a slowdown based om attrition. So maybe keep in touch with the hiring folks you've met!

I'm currently in the adjudication phase for a security clearance with the DoD for an analyst position. I received my conditional job offer in May. I have completed most of my background investigation. Will our conditional job offers be rescinded or will we be put on hold for the 90 days freeze?

This would come under the category of offers with no firm reporting date. OMB guidance from yesterday says the agency must review on a case by case basis. 

Does the freeze apply to job openings already posted--in other words, will existing postings not be filled?

Our understanding is that existing postings won't be filled unless the are covered by  national security or public health and safety exemptions. Remember that could be a lot of jobs. 

Yesterday my husband was given a choice between staying at his current position, or starting training and work for a vacant position, with the understanding that he will be promoted to the next GS level after the hiring freeze is over. He chose the latter. (Also, side note, despite the no contractor rule, his current position, which will become vacant, is being filled immediately by a temp.) He works in food safety at a division of the USDA that generates revenue, and typically when federal workers are furloughed, his agency is not affected. However, they have not been declared exempt from the freeze. What kind of timeline can he expect regarding this promotion after the hiring freeze is over, and is there anything his management can do in the meantime? Thank you for your time and expertise.

There are enough variables in this that you will need to talk with your HR office. 

I am a disabled veteran and just got a tentative job offer two weeks ago, am waiting on the outcome of security background to get my start date. What happens to the job offer now?

The agency has to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. 

Will National Parks be permitted to hire seasonal employees in 2017?

There has been confusion and uncertainty over this issue. An OMB spokesman said that it's likely many seasonal workers will still be able to be hired under the public safety exemption, although that raises another questions: Is an interpretive park ranger someone who deal with public safety?

Here is some guidance we got our hands on from a top Park Service official:

  • As of noon on January 22, 2017, no existing vacant positions may be filled, and no new positions may be created. Executive departments and agencies should not make any new offers of employment. Department and agency heads may make limited exceptions to ensure national security and public safety, but guidance on that waiver process has not been issued yet.
  • An individual who has received a job offer/appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and who has received documentation from the agency that specifies a confirmed start date on or before February 22, 2017, should report to work on that date.
  • For individuals who have received a job offer/ appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and who have received documentation from that agency that specifies a confirmed start date after February 22, 2017, we are awaiting additional guidance on the review process to determine whether these individuals should report to duty on the agreed upon start date.
  • Hiring for seasonal positions is currently underway. It is still unclear which types of seasonal positions may qualify for a waiver, so with the expectation that at least some exemptions will be granted for these positions and in recognition of the time it takes to hire and on-board seasonals, bureaus and offices should continue their seasonal hiring processes to identify qualified candidates who may be expeditiously selected when a freeze exemption is granted. No new offers of employment may be made until a freeze exemption is granted.
  • In addition, hiring processes for permanent wildland fire, law enforcement and other public safety positions should continue to identify qualified candidates. No new offers of employment should be made until a freeze exemption is granted.

How are different agencies interpreting the freeze when it comes to volunteer programs and internships?

The freeze should not cover volunteer programs, but internships that are paid are most likely covered. 

How does this affect contractors and their employees who work for the government?

At this point, the freeze only affects federal employees.

The Pathways Recent Graduates Program was initiated by President Barack Obama under an Executive Order in 2010. With a hiring freeze, what will happen to the program - both for those who are currently working under the program and those who are seeking to enter the program?

Pathways is a program for entry level hires. Like other hiring programs for permanent jobs, it is subject to the freeze. It most likely will have no effect on people who are already on the payroll.

Will the freeze effect discretionary promotions for employees that were supposed to go into effect six months after they began their service? (Started in September 2016, six months would be March 2017.) Many thanks. 

If they are career promotions, they are probably Ok.

I heard President Trump was walking back the hiring freeze for the VA is this true and is this effective immediately? What positions may still be hired?

We've gotten some clarity on VA in the last few days. While the White House said at first that the agency was covered by the freeze, VA told us yesterday that there will be exemptions for people in "public health" jobs, and that will certainly mean that doctors, nurses and other medical personnel will be able to be hired. VA has a shortage of lots of these positions, so that's going to be a good exemption for veterans. 

Has there been any clarification on if the public safety exemption includes season hires for wildland firefighters?

Yes,  wildlife firefighters are exempt for sure. 

Will President Trump consider a broad-sweeping VERA (Voluntary Early Retirement Authority) program to replace this temporary freeze?? Inquiring minds want to know.

VERA is one of the best voluntary downsizing tools the government uses. Most CHCOs I've spoken with want to use VERA separation incentives (buyouts) to incentivize turnover where the agency wants it to occur. DoD just got new authority for higher buyouts ($40K) in the 2017 NDAA

What agencies/positions fall under the National Security exemption?

That is up to agency heads at this point. OMB's guidance yesterday referred to "limited" exemptions, so, for now, there are no agency-wide exemptions.

Does this hiring freeze affect hiring at the U.S. Capitol or the White House?

The legislative branch has not put a hiring freeze in place. The White House, being an executive branch agency, is in theory covered by the freeze. But many of those jobs go to political appointees, and the president's order exempts politicals. 

As a federal employee as a researcher, I've applied to he next GS position. Does tha apply to hiring freeze? I'm trying to understand the category of 'public safety' will not be effect. Could you clarify on this?

We are waiting on more guidance from OMB on the exemptions. 

The president's order does not actually mention public health as an exemption, just public safety. But a White House official told me yesterday that public health jobs are included in public safety.

I am engineer and was hired as a GS-9 with a promise that every year I would get a GS increase until I hit GS-13. I'm currently a GS-12. Does each new classification of my job count as a new position; am I stuck with the hiring freeze or will I hit the GS-13?

In past freezes, career promotions were not considered to be new hires, because they did not add to the payroll or result in a new job being filled. OMB's answers on the freeze so far have been very reasonable, so its a good bet they will not break with tradition on that.

How does this freeze apply to the foreign service vs civil service?

The freeze applies to executive branch jobs, and the foreign service is technically part of the exec branch. So the question will be whether the State Department decides to exempt some of those jobs on the basis of public safety/ national security. TBD

I got hired in November of 2016 and due to a security delay was not given my start date (Feb 6th) until January. Do I still have a job?

OMB said anyone with an offer before Jan 22 and a report date on or before Feb 22 should report as planned. 

does the freeze involve DoD and the VA vacancies

Please see previous answer on VA.

As for DOD, this was the source of much confusion  for two days running. Turns out that DOD civilians, who number about 750,000, ARE affected by the hiring freeze. BUT, it is likely that some of these jobs will be construed as having national security missions and thus will be exempt. 

I am currently a Postal Employee (EAS). Are we affected by the freeze too? Can I move laterally to another agency? I took a huge pay cut to work here. Wouldn't make more sense to go back to contractors or are those jobs frozen too?

I am embarrassed to say that we have not yet figure out whether USPS is affected. If you email me later at Lisa.Rein@washpost.com, I will find out.

As far as a lateral move to another agency goes, please look to answer above. These kinds of transfers probably won't happen. Unless there is a national security/public safety exemption.

Many of us (and our families) have resigned from jobs, given up homes etc. in order to make the March training class for State Dept. It starts just 7 business days after the Feb 22 cut off. What will they do for us?

There may be others in similar situations (like law enforcement who are going to FLETC or another academy). Because the scheduling for those academies is so tight, State and other departments will most likely make decisions on groups of employees. 

Does the freeze also affect agencies in the legislative branch, such as the Library of Congress?

Nope, the Library of Congress and all other agencies in the legislative branch are allowed to continue hiring....

Don't most administrations freeze hiring at the beginning of their terms so they can get a handle on staffing?

Some administrations have - others have not. This freeze was not a surprise because President Trump said months ago that he would do it.

Is this freeze expected to last longer than 90 days?

Hi there. The president's order says the freeze should last 90 days, at which time the budget director is supposed to have a plan in place to reduce the federal workforce long-term, probably by attrition. We are assuming that this means something like, agencies can hire one person for every two who leave, or two people for every three or four or something like this.

Are there exemptions for those with disabilities?

Not at this point. Exemptions are based on the job rather than the applicant.

Is there any point to applying for jobs currently posted?

Yes. Many agencies will continue to advertise jobs with the idea of filling them when the freeze is lifted. If you do not apply now, you may miss out on some opportunities.

How will the freeze affect extensions on federal term employee contracts? Will they be able to be extended?

Previous freezes did not affect extensions of appointments. They are not filling a job, but rather are extending the duration of an existing appointment. OMB has not addressed this one directly.

The DOJ currently has a number of attorney openings, both at Main Justice and within individual US Attorneys' offices. Do you know if those openings are frozen?

Yes, technically since Justice is part of the executive branch the freeze applies. BUT remember that there will be exemptions at many agencies for jobs that are considered vital to national security and public safety. So there many be hires at Justice if the job is construed to apply in these areas.Depends on what Trump's nominee for AG, Jeff Sessions, decides. It turns out that agency heads have a lot of discretion in granting waivers 

I recently accepted a conditional offer for an entry level position within the IC in December. I am not a federal employee and never have been. My clearance investigation is currently underway, will my offer be rescinded because of the freeze?

Per the OMB guidance, the agency will review all such offers and make decisions on a case by case basis

Can I write a critical letter to an elected official (on my own time, at my own expense, without mentioning my job or agency)? I think I can. But if the official learns where I work, can he or my agency fire me or affect my employment in any way?

Yes, it is your right to write to your representative in Congress.

I am a retired USCG civilian employee. My question is: Could I still get a job as a retired annuitant with the hiring freeze in place ?

Maybe. The Presidential memo says agencies can make appointments of officials who serve at the will of the appointing officer. Reemployed annuitants serve at the will of the appointing officer. I do not think that was what they had in mind, but the wording of the memo would allow it. OMB may tighten that one up.

What types of agencies or roles would most likely be classified as "national security?" The executive order was vague.

Good question, since this designation will be the basis for many waivers. Please see Jeff's answer above!

How about the judicial branch--does this affect them?

No - the freeze covers the Executive Branch

Has the pay raise Obama authorized for federal workers been revoked?

No

As many are aware, the U.S. Peace Corps, unlike many USG agencies and depts., has a maximum time-in-service rule (legislative and called routinely the "5-year rule") for its American staff (with 15% of its U.S. citizen staff permitted to serve up to 8.5 years at any one time) due to the nature of the agency and thoughts at the time when Peace Corps was established by President Kennedy and Congress.  

That is, PC's SOP is that staff members rotates out to make way for Volunteers who have recently completed service and for others in the American public who hopefully will bring in fresh ideas to the agency. Obviously this means that the hiring of new staff, and those in many critical positions as Peace Corps is a very small agency, occurs on a routine basis. 

As current staff are required by the Peace Corps Act to depart service at the end of 5 years (and again up to possibly 8.5 yrs max for a small percentage of staff) and if new staff  to replace them can not be hired under a freeze, this freeze would seem to present a notable concern and danger to providing adequate support of PC Volunteers overseas in the country programs.

Does this present freeze address, do you know, this likely unique Peace Corps concern?  

Because the Peace Corps is unique, they will most likely be working with OMB and OPM to address their situation. Current guidance does not address them.

Does this hiring freeze extend to family members of diplomats working at our embassies abroad? Would a diplomat's spouse no longer be able to get hired by the embassy until this hiring freeze is lifted?

We assume that if the person is applying for an embassy job overseen by the State Department, the freeze applies. Unless the job gets a waiver.  

I'm a Pathways recent graduate hire. Next month will be the end of my 1-year probationary period. Does the freeze impact my transition to a permanent employee? Would I still be eligible for a (non-competitive) grade increase?

Most likely, it will not stop your transition or eligibility for a promotion.

So by "national security", I assume all intelligence agencies are exempt?

Plse see Jeff's answer above

My husband is a new foreign service officer and we are currently serving at our first post overseas. I had to quit my government job with DHS because they would not transfer me. We decided this would be okay since I would be able to get a job at the consulate wherever we were posted. I am currently in the process of being hired for several positions at post but since the hiring freeze was signed, I am afraid I will no longer be hired. We cannot currently survive off of one income since we just had our first child. How will this hiring freeze affect future endeavors made by family members to obtain jobs at posts?

Hi there. The freeze is expected to last 90 days , and then we'll likely see a long-term plan to reduce the size of govt through attrition. Don't know what kind of jobs you're applying for. If the come under natl security/public safety the ban could be waived.

We bring our postdocs and students as contractors. Does this freeze apply to them

So as far as we know, contractors are not affected by the hiring freeze. The president's order does, however, instruct agencies that they cannot use contractors to backfill behind feds they wanted to hire but couldn't. 

One interesting question will be how the use of contractors is monitored, in other words how do you tell whether an agency is using more contractors to backfill in violation of the order 

I am tentatively selected for the position of Information Technology Applications Specialist (Smarter IT) . I got initial offer and its under negotiation for better position and better pay, since I do similar work as contractor. What will happen to my offer?

We have gotten a lot of similar questions. OMBs guidance yesterday says "If an individual has received a job offer/appointment prior to January 22, 2017, and has received documentation from the agency that specifies a confirmed start date after Feb 22, 2017, (or does not have a confirmed start date), the Agency Head should review the position to determine whether the job offer/appointment should be revoked or whether the individual should report for duty on an agreed upon start date."

I have heard they are going to privatize some agencies or part of after freeze have you heard anything about this yet?

Hi. There are rumors that TSA, the federal airport screener workforce, will be privatized. These are just rumors and it's too early to know what will happen. Trump's nominee for OMB, Rep. Mulvaney, has said at public hearings on Cap. Hill that he favors privatization. TBD

Do you understand the hiring freeze to have an impact on the various office of inspector generals? Are they part of the public service/protection exception? I haven't been on usajobs recently but I assume it's pretty stark.

Yes. IGs are Executive Branch employees. Agency heads might be able to make exemptions for some under the public safety provisions

Are internal reassignments to be treated the same as open of external hires?

Internal reassignments are technically filling jobs, so this one will need guidance from OMB. OMB btw says that they will be putting out some new guidance in the next day . We will be following 

Will the freeze affect step increases?

No. Step increases are covered under law/regulations that are unaffected by the freeze.

Any clue re current law students that have been extended and accepted job offers under the Honors program? The jobs at government legal departments start after they graduate this Spring and pass the bar

Please see Jeff's answers above 

If an employee was offered a detail prior to the freeze, covering their supervisors job for 120 days, at an increase in GS level (13 to 14), will it be honored if it hadn't started yet? Thanks.

A detail is not an actual move to a new position. It does not change pay or your position of record. Based on that, it should not be covered by the freeze. If it were a temporary promotion, it might be covered.

Good morning. I have been a contractor at the DOJ for over 2.5 years and am hopeful to be converted into a Federal employee. I imagine this freeze will make that impossible until it is lifted, correct?

Right but remember it's supposed to be lifted in 90 days and then converted to a slowdown guided by attrition. So you should prob keep applying. It may take longer 

In your previous answer, you said you're confident that current federal employees won't be able to transfer to different agencies during the hiring freeze because it adds to that agency's payroll. What about internal transfers with an agency, for lateral transfers at the same grade? Would that be allowed under the language saying that hiring freeze allows "reallocations to meet the highest priority needs and to ensure that essential services are not interrupted..."?

Internal reassignments (within an agency and at the same grade) would be at the agency head's discretion

How does the hiring freeze affect those employees who are on the Priority Placement?

If you are referring to the DoD PPP, the freeze would overrule the placement requirements of the program, but PPP would still apply if DoD fills positions as exemptions to the freeze.

Thanks everyone, and Lisa!

We hope to do more chats on federal employee issues in the Trump/ GOP-controlled Congress era. We think there will be lots coming down the pike. I hope to be writing about these issues for the Post so please follow our stories.

I'm at @Reinlwapo on Twitter, and my email addrress is Lisa.Rein@washpost.com

Jeff, the *real* expert in the room , can be found at www.ChiefHRO.com, where he blogs about federal workforce issues. He's great.

Thanks again 

 

In This Chat
Lisa Rein
Lisa Rein covers the federal workforce and issues that concern the management of government. Read coverage.
Jeff Neal
Jeff is senior vice president at ICF and is a former chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He has a blog on the management of government called ChiefHRO.com.
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