Federal worker Greg Guthrie had held out hope after Donald Trump’s election to president that his professed advocacy for the American worker would extend to the federal workforce, too.
That hope diminished after Trump on Monday issued an executive order implementing a hiring freeze across the federal government, with exceptions only for military, national security or public safety personnel.
So while Guthrie wasn’t shocked to learn Trump had imposed the hiring freeze, he was disappointed.
“I guess there’s a presumption that a lot of people in government are not needed,” Guthrie, an information specialist with the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service in Alexandria, said in a phone interview. “But we’re pretty lean right now, anyway. Now to say that there will be no new, young workers — that’s pretty draconian.”
Trump had raised the possibility of a hiring freeze during the campaign. At a news conference Monday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the freeze ensures taxpayers get effective and efficient government and said it “counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.”
Statistics from the Office of Personnel Management, though, show that the number of executive branch employees hasn’t been this low since 1965, and that the number of employees has stayed more or less steady in the last 15 years.
Guthrie, who is also union officer with the National Federation of Federal Employees, said he didn’t understand how Trump could conclude that a hiring freeze was a good idea even before his Cabinet nominees have been approved.
“As a federal worker, it’s kind of deflating to be felt like you’re unnecessary,” he said.
The union’s president, Randy Erwin, said in a statement Monday that a hiring freeze is a “terrible idea.”
“Freezing federal hiring sounds good on the campaign trail, but it does not make government smaller like some people think it does,” he said. “All it does is lead to the hiring of more federal contractors which tend to cost taxpayers more than federal employees and are less accountable.”
The full effect of a hiring freeze is unclear. According to OPM, the federal government hired 221,000 workers in fiscal 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.
The number excludes uniformed military personnel. But roughly a third of those hired were military veterans, who enjoy hiring preferences in the federal government.
Erwin also pointed out that the Department of Veterans Affairs currently has 2,000 vacancies and said “it is the American veteran that is going to suffer” because the agency is now barred from filling those vacancies.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, whose district includes many federal workers, said Monday that the government actually needs to increase its capacity to handle certain issues, like cybersecurity.
“This Executive Order … will have a depressing effect on our ability to recruit and retain the next generation of federal workers,” he said. “This is a far cry from President Kennedy’s effort to inspire a new generation to enter public service.”
Republican Barbra Comstock, who also represents parts of northern Virginia in Congress, announced her own opposition to the hiring freeze and said “past hiring freezes in both Republican and Democrat administrations have cost the federal government money in the long run.”