Washington Post: Concerns about hiring freeze’s disruption, costs spur request for audit

Two Democratic senators active in overseeing management of the government want an audit of the Trump administration’s general federal hiring freeze, raising concerns about the potential impact on service to the public and noting that prior freezes were found to be disruptive and expensive.

“Across the board cuts and a shrinking of the total federal workforce are not the answer to making the federal government more efficient or effective,” Sens. Gary Peters (Mich.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) plan to say in asking the Government Accountability Office to conduct a review similar to one it did of freezes imposed by the Carter and Reagan administrations.

That 1982 audit concluded that the freezes had “little effect on Federal employment levels” while they “disrupted agency operations, and in some cases, increased costs to the Government,” in part because agencies compensated for reduced staffing by hiring more contractors.

Although the Trump administration’s directive bars agencies from shifting work to contractors, GAO found agencies did that in the prior freezes despite similar restrictions, at costs of as much as 60 percent above those of using federal employees, the letter says.

“While we applaud efforts to streamline government, ensure efficient operations and encourage good stewardship of taxpayer dollars, we are extremely concerned about the potential for increased government spending and waste under this freeze,” says the planned request from the two senators, who are the ranking members of two subcommittees of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The letter points out that GAO concluded that the earlier freezes “hindered agency missions, caused inefficient staff utilization and clerical shortages, and resulted in lost revenue and uncollected debts.”

“This freeze could also negatively affect the talent and morale of our workforce. We simply cannot afford these potential shortfalls in our current government operations and our trusted public servants and constituents who rely on these services deserve much better,” it says.

The freeze, one of the Trump administration’s first actions, generally bars agencies from filling vacancies created as employees leave, and also generally bans creation of new positions. However, there are exceptions for positions related to national security and public safety, which have been interpreted to exempt a wide range of occupations.

The freeze directive also told the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management to produce by late April a long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce by attrition. While the current policy will expire at that point, the new plan could call for a continued general freeze, with potential changes in the exceptions.

Federal employee organizations and some members of Congress have voiced similar concerns since the freeze was announced, and several bills are pending in Congress to create more exceptions.

By:  Eric Yoder
Source: Washington Post