President-elect Donald Trump has published a 100-day action plan that categorizes the immediate priorities of his administration when he takes office in January.
Included is the following statement regarding the federal workforce:
SECOND, a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health).
The “second” refers to one of six measures intended to “clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC.”
Hiring freezes are usually done as a cost-saving measure, yet the Trump campaign has stated that a smaller federal workforce will result in “a more honest and effective government, in which it is harder to hide corruption.”
No further details are provided and it remains unclear how Trump, a Republican president in concert with a Republican-led congress, will choose to act in relation to the size and scope of the federal workforce.
Some people are hopeful that Trump’s business acumen and experience will bring the benefits of a private-sector view, including a market-based approach to recruiting, hiring and retaining employees.
When the workforce is reduced, the work remains
Weeding out isolated incidents of abuse and corruption is a worthy goal, yet taking broad aim at the entire federal workforce may have more to do with the Republican ideal of streamlining government, especially when the overwhelming majority of federal workers do their jobs with the highest levels of integrity and professionalism.
Perceptions of a bloated federal government workforce persist, yet according to Obama administration fiscal 2017 budget documents, the workforce has declined dramatically over the past several decades:
“Since the 1960s, the U.S. population has increased by 67 percent, the private sector workforce increased by 136 percent, and state and local government workforces (excluding education workers) increased by 127 percent, while the size of the Federal workforce rose about 10 percent.”
Technology and greater self-service are picking up some of the slack. For example, at the National Library of Education, LAC Federal created custom-designed information portals so staff can quickly find up-to-date information on research, news, and legislation affecting education in each US state. This need had not been previously articulated, but once implemented it was a huge success in aggregating fast-changing information to be accessed by staff on-demand, rather than having them submit individual, time-consuming requests to a third party each time.
And at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, we are using an ERMS system (electronic records management software) to automate and streamline most of the records management procedures for email.
While workers may be eliminated, the work itself remains, and must get done somehow. Contractors like LAC Federal will continue to be part of the solution as agencies and departments strive to fulfill their mission and meet their objectives. Some may also hire part-time or temporary workers, or increase overtime.
Uncertainties facing today’s federal workforce
Every election cycle brings change and uncertainty, but the unknowns of this cycle are greater-than-usual. President-elect Donald Trump has never held public office of any kind. The track record of Vice President-elect Michael Pence shows somebody who supported anti-union laws and limiting workers’ rights. Pence earned a rating of “0” from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) during his last House term, which ended in 2013.
Other unions representing federal government workers have expressed their concerns. In recent coverage by The Washington Post, National Treasury Employees Union President Tony Reardon is quoted as saying,
“We’re going to have to work really hard to educate the new administration about federal employee issues and the support they need to perform their mission on behalf of the American public.”
In addition, a Republican-led congress no longer faces the constraints of a Democrat-led executive branch. The changes many Republicans have been wanting to implement regarding federal government employee benefits and practices now have a chance of being enacted.
Some of those could include:
- Extending the probation period for newly hired employees (currently one year).
- Limits on paid leave for employees who are being investigated for disciplinary action.
- Increasing the required employee contribution toward retirement, health insurance and other benefits and/or decreasing the government’s contributions to these programs.
- Eliminating or reducing a retirement supplement paid to many who retire early.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees federal workforce and personnel issues, will be holding nomination hearings for new directors for the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget.
At this point, all anyone can do is speculate. As a federal government contractor, LAC Federal will be following the situation as it continues to unfold.