OPM grants 3 more hiring freeze exemptions

The Office of Personnel Management has so far exempted three additional positions from President Donald Trump’s hiring freeze, according to an OPM spokesperson.

Administrative law judges and hearing support staff, as well as processing center employees, at the Social Security Administration are exempted. General managers at the U.S. Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board also received exemptions. OPM received seven other requests for hiring freeze exemptions.

Agencies can request and OPM can grant additional exemptions if they fall outside of the scope of the original guidance the administration released Jan. 31.

Agency heads can also exempt specific positions in the national security or public health fields — or if those positions fall under OPM and the Office of Management and Budget’s original guidance.

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The Veterans Affairs Department was one of the first agencies to grant exemptions — nearly 100  different positions shortly after the President announced the hiring freeze. Medical center directors, doctors, nurses and some contracting officials are among the 37,000 open positions that are covered under exemptions.

VA Secretary David Shulkin indicated during a March 7 hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the department had recently asked for more exemptions to the hiring freeze.

The department has roughly 45,000 open positions.

Trump authorized the temporary freeze in an executive memo Jan. 23, one of his first moves as president. The freeze is in place until OMB develops a long-term plan to cut the size of the federal workforce through attrition.

Meanwhile, a group of at least nine senators asked OPM for more guidance to clarify exemptions from the hiring freeze for positions at military depots, shipyards and arsenals. Military secretaries are issuing exemptions on a job-by-job basis, which makes the process confusing, impractical and a potential violation of the U.S. Code, the senators wrote in a February letter to OPM Acting Director Kathleen McGettigan.

Some federal unions and organizations have also made their concerns known about the impacts of the hiring freeze.

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Senior Executives Association President Bill Valdez wrote to OMB Director Mick Mulvaney and McGettigan to “request that you provide immediate relief to those agencies that have vacant mission critical career leadership positions exacerbated by the hiring freeze.”

The hiring freeze, along with the presidential transition and natural attrition, has created a “leadership vacuum” in some agencies, Valdez said. SEA recommended the administration classify some positions that had been classified as political appointments during previous administrations as “career reserved,” meaning they’d go to career senior executive service members.

“OPM has the latitude to grant agencies the ability to fill these non-career slots with career SES  positions,” Valdez wrote in the March 9 letter. “We believe that a process should be in place to define which of those positions will not be filled by the Trump administration and should be allocated to the career SES given their importance to the functioning of government.”