In one of his first acts during Day Three of his presidency, Donald Trump issued an executive order that put a hold on most federal hiring — thereby angered one of America's most powerful unions.
On Monday Trump signed an executive order that will freeze federal hiring in every area of the government except for sectors involving the military, public safety and public health. Sources close to the Trump transition told Politico that the president's personnel team — led by Bush administration alumni Kay Coles James and Linda Springer — plans to drastically reduce the size of domestic agencies while slightly increasing that of the defense workforce. The Trump administration is considering embarking on a "reduction in force" plan so as to circumvent civil service rules that safeguard government employees.
While these moves may please Trump's right-wing base, they could also alienate the very people on whom he will depend for his administration to be successful. "The government is a place where it is easier to keep something from getting done, than it is to actually do something," former Office of Management and Budget official Robert Shea told Politico. "All of the work that the new administration wants to get accomplished will depend on the speed and productivity of the federal workforce."
These views were echoed by David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union.
"President Trump’s action will disrupt government programs and services that benefit everyone and actually increase taxpayer costs by forcing agencies to hire more expensive contractors to do work that civilian government employees are already doing for far less," Cox told The Washington Post. "This hiring freeze will mean longer lines at Social Security offices, fewer workplace safety inspections, less oversight of environmental polluters, and greater risk to our nation’s food supply and clean water systems."
Despite these criticisms, Sean Spicer, the White House's press secretary, told reporters the hiring freeze is meant to show that "we’ve got to respect the American taxpayer." He added seeing "money get wasted" on jobs that are "duplicative is insulting to the hard work that they do to pay their taxes."
Trump's federal hiring freeze arrives at a time when the president has already had a very divisive effect on the federal workforce.
"During more than eight years of writing this column, I have sought the views of federal employees through informal email surveys," wrote Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson. "Never have I received comments filled with the kind of fright expressed by those who have written to me since Trump’s inauguration Friday," he added, describing the climate fostered by Trump's rhetoric and policies. "Post policy rightly discourages the use of anonymous comments, but it’s acceptable when the source has a valid reason, such as a fear of retaliation. Feds fear retribution now more than ever."
Of particular concern, Davidson cited the rise of racist encounters by federal employees since Trump's election, the apparent "nascent McCarthyism" within the new administration, and the president's revival of a 19th-century law that allows the government to target individual federal employees for a pay reduction (to $1).