OMB releases initial hiring freeze guidance for agencies

Agencies have a few more details now from the Office of Management and Budget about the immediate actions they should take to implement President Donald Trump’s recently announced, short-term hiring freeze.

The memo, which Federal News Radio obtained, includes few other details about agencies’ next steps following the President’s executive memorandum. But it does clarify how agencies should approach positions that they recently filled and whether those recently hired individuals should report for work.

As of noon on Jan. 22, agencies cannot fill existing vacant positions, nor can they issue any new jobs offers or create new positions, said OMB acting Director Mark Sandy in a Jan. 25 memo to agency heads.

Individuals who received a job offer or an appointment before Jan. 22, received a confirmation from the agency and received a start date on or before Feb. 22, 2017 should report to work on that day, OMB said.

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But if a person has a job offer from agency that does not include a start date —  or that date is after Feb. 22 — agency heads should review the position and decide whether it should be revoked, or if the prospective employee should show up for work.

“Agency heads should consider merit system principles, essential mission priorities and current agency resources and funding levels when making determinations whether or not to revoke appointments,” the memo said.

The hiring freeze — which temporarily prohibits agencies from making new hires until OMB develops a long-term plan within the next 90 days to reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition — applies to all executive branch departments and agencies, including the Defense Department.

A DoD spokesman confirmed that the memo does not apply to military personnel but includes civilian employees who work at defense agencies.

OMB also reminded agencies that they can make “limited” exemptions to the hiring freeze if they determine that those jobs are necessary to maintain public safety or national security.

Some lawmakers and federal associations, many of which have vocally expressed their concerns about the short-term hiring freeze, are already calling for specific exemptions.

Hiring freeze or thaw? What OMB’s memo really says

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the ranking members of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees, respectively, asked that Trump exempt the entire Veterans Affairs Department and any veterans looking for work.

“This executive order will make it harder for veterans to get in the door at the VA and receive the timely benefits to which they are entitled, and that is totally unacceptable,” Tester and Walz said in a Jan. 25 statement. “The VA is already struggling to keep the promises our country has made to the folks who served because VA health clinics and hospitals across the country are understaffed, and VA staff are too often unable to process their disability, education and survivor benefits in a timely manner.”

Tester also grilled Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), Trump’s nominee to be OMB director, about the hiring freeze and its impact on the VA at his nomination hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Jan. 24.

“I’m having a difficult time automatically coming to the conclusion that the best way to make VA more efficient is to hire more people,” Mulvaney said in response to Tester’s questions about the department. “I’m certainly willing to consider … there may be circumstances where you can actually provide a more cost effective and efficient government by adding more people in certain areas. There may be limited examples, but they certainly exist. I’m more than willing to work with you and your office in figuring out a way to do that because I’m just as interested as you are in taking care of our vets.”

OMB or the Office of Personnel Management will release more details about exemptions, potential reporting requirements and other instructions for agencies as they implement the President’s hiring freeze memo, Sandy wrote, but he didn’t provide a date for future guidance.

Agencies should direct their questions about the guidance to their OMB Resource Management Offices.