Hiring Freeze: Some Answers, Some Questions

Updated with OMB’s January 25 Guidance

President Trump’s freeze on federal hiring was delivered on January 23rd. The Presidential Memorandum answers a number of questions, but the language of the Memorandum also raises some questions. Here is what we know, and what we do not know yet.

  • It is an across the board civilian service hiring freeze in all agencies of the executive branch (regardless of funding source). That means an agency like PTO, that gets its funding from fees, is covered. Some freezes in the past have been focused on agencies that are paid through appropriated funds.
  • No vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances. That is direct and to the point. What it does not clearly address is whether agencies can honor job offers they already made. As written, the answer would be no, because the positions are still vacant. OMB says offers made and accepted before January 22nd, with an acceptance and firm reporting date on or before February 22nd can report as planned. Agencies must review other offers and decide whether to go forward or revoke them. 
  • Department/Agency heads can exempt positions to meet national security or public safety responsibilities. This is showing a degree of deference to Department/Agency heads to make decisions about what falls into those categories. Most administrations come to town with the idea that they are going to let their agency heads have a lot of discretion. Over time, they often pull more and more decision making back into the White House. What we do not know is how far an agency head might go with this exemption. For example, the Memorandum exempts military positions. When we think of military, we normally mean uniformed members of the armed forces. Does this freeze apply to Defense Department civilians? As written, the answer is yes, but the Secretary of Defense could declare large numbers of Defense civilian jobs to be necessary for national security. OMB guidance refers now to “limited numbers” of exemptions. For example, the depot-level maintenance facilities like air logistics centers, fleet readiness centers and shipyards employ tens of thousands of civilians to perform overhauls of ships and aircraft. If they are delayed, there can be a substantial impact on military readiness. Scheduling in those facilities is so tight that hiring delays can have ripple effects that can last for months or even years. The Memorandum also does not address public health positions. Past freezes have made exceptions for such positions. So – what happens at the Department of Veterans Affairs and their medical personnel in VA hospitals and clinics? I anticipate OMB will offer clarifying information to address questions such as that. Most hiring freezes are followed by such Q&As because every hiring freeze memo raises questions.
  • The OPM Director can grant exemptions when necessary. I would expect that OPM and OMB will lay out some criteria for exemptions so agencies have an idea what might or might not pass muster. OMB guidance says further instructions are coming. 
  • OMB and OPM Directors to come up with plan within 90 days to reduce the workforce through attrition. The freeze ends when the OMB plan is implemented. There are three important points in this one. First, the freeze is finite. It is likely that OMB and OPM will get the plan completed within 90 days and the freeze will be lifted. Second, there is clearly an intent to reduce the size of the civil service workforce. Finally, there is not an intent to have widespread reductions in force to accomplish the reductions. This raises at least five more questions. First, what will be the target for reductions? Will they be across-the-board or targeted to specific agencies? Second, how big will the reductions be? Some republicans on the Hill have proposed a 10% reduction in the total number of employees. Third, will agencies be authorized to use early retirement and separation incentives to encourage turnover in the types of jobs and in the parts of agencies where they want to take the cuts? Attrition has the disadvantage of not being targeted. That means an agency may have more vacancies occur in mission-critical jobs than in less critical jobs. Being able to incentivize turnover where the agency wants it would help alleviate that problem. Fourth, what will the attrition plan look like? The same folks who proposed a 10% cut also proposed using a 1-for-3 partial freeze. That approach allows an agency to continue filling critical positions, as long as they have more turnover in less critical jobs. Finally, will there be a target date by which the agencies have to get to a new headcount?
  • Contracting outside the Government to circumvent the intent of the freeze is prohibited. This was expected.
  • Agencies should “seek efficient use of existing personnel and funds to improve public services and the delivery of these services and reallocations may be made to meet the highest priority needs and ensure essential services are not interrupted and national security is not affected.” That means people and money can be transferred to other accounts. This provision would allow an agency to use its resources, but might reduce or eliminate cost savings from the freeze.
  • The freeze does not apply to political appointees or positions where the employee serves at the will of the appointing officer. It would be absurd for a brand new administration to freeze political appointments before they have a team in place, so no one expected the freeze to apply to politicals. The interesting provision here is that there are a lot more employees (not political appointees) who serve at the will of the appointing officer. For example, reemployed annuitants and most temporary appointees serve at the will of the appointing officer. I would be surprised if the intent was to exempt so many possible appointments and would expect to some clarification from OMB.
  • The freeze is not retroactive and does not overrule collective bargaining agreements. These are common sense provisions. Trying to make a freeze retroactive for people who are already appointed is not really doable. Collective bargaining agreements cannot simply be waived by the President.

In general, this is not the hardest freeze I have seen. It provides some flexibility for critical positions and clarifying guidance from OMB and/or OPM may provide a bit more. The fact that it has an end-point and the criteria for lifting it is positive. Like most things, the devil is in the details, and the reduction plans are where I would expect to see much more controversy.

91 thoughts on “Hiring Freeze: Some Answers, Some Questions

  1. Judith Jones says:

    Good article!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  2. COLLEEN M WILL says:

    Great article.

    Like

  3. David says:

    Many current civilian agency employees are in the middle of lateral transfers within agency or merit promotions to a new grade within their current job series. WhIle accepted for the role or position, HR paperwork isn’t complete. How are these employees effected?

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    • Jeff Neal says:

      The memo allows agencies to move people and money, so the most likely answer is that internal moves are OK. We will have to wait for the OMB/OPM guidance to know for sure.

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      • leslie fox says:

        Does it apply to non-appropriated fund positions?

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      • Jeff Neal says:

        That’s a good question. Without further OMB guidance, it may. It covers all executive branch positions, regardless of funding source. The answer will depend on the definition of an employee and a position. Some definitions of federal employee do not include NAF.

        Like

  4. John Tomlin says:

    Having seen a variety of these over the years, this one stands out as rather amateurish in its lack of clarity.

    Like

  5. CJD says:

    Here’s a vague question, what is the typical turn-around time for OPM/OMB guidance for lateral transfers, in your experience as DHS CHRO? Thanks!

    Like

  6. Mary says:

    Another question, what about a management reassignment from overseas to The States that is already in progress within the same agency? Has this guidance come out yet?

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  7. Sean says:

    I’ve heard a story of a man who relocated his family to the DC-area on an official job offer, now they are in limbo. Can you imagine?!

    If you received a firm job offer prior to the 22nd, with release and start dates determined by HRs of both agencies (you are transferring agencies), what would your tea leaves tell you, Jeff? Chances of the hiring action being completed are so-so, unlikely, slim? I suppose it largely depends on the heads of those agencies? There are MANY people in limbo right now, I hope we’ll get answers soon.

    The irony is that while politicians say they support and love vets, this action will likely cheat many of them out of jobs they had worked hard to earn. Horrible, really.

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      I think the ability to honor job offers may depend on the number of them. If it appears there are huge numbers, they may say no. During the Reagan freeze, an appeals court ruled that federal job offers are not binding contracts.

      Like

  8. […] Hiring Freeze: Some Answers, Some Questions, ChiefHRO.com […]

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  9. Jay says:

    I have a family member who started on the 23rd. Is his job in jeopardy?

    Like

  10. Montrose says:

    I reviewed National Treasury Emp. Union v. Reagan as this seems to be the case often referenced.

    My take away is that personnel with a Formal Offer Letter dated prior to January 22, 2017 are “appointed” regardless of whether or not they EOD’d prior to January 22, 2017 or a SF-50 was signed.

    If my interpretation is correct, based on the verbiage of the hiring freeze memo (last sentence of par. 6), current federal employees promoting to a position in another agency are merely facing an on-boarding hold and need not fear revocation of their offer.

    Am I correct in my interpretation? Does a Formal Offer Letter and SF-50 render a position “filled” or does a position remain “vacant” until EOD? I noticed that appointment is defined by OPM as “any personnel action that brings an individual onto the rolls (staff) of an agency.”

    The case makes several referenced to the Federal Personnel Manual (FPM). Where can the current version of the FPM be obtained/reviewed?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      A formal offer letter is not an appointment. The SF-50 is not processed until the employee is actually appointed. In NTEU v. Reagan, the court ruled that people who were not already on duty did not have a binding contract and the offer could be revoked. That was the main issue in the case.

      The situation is different for people are already in an agency. In most prior hiring freezes, agencies have been allowed to move people around internally.

      Like

  11. Adrienne Scherger says:

    I accepted a TO on the 18th, and submitted background investigation paperwork. I had my finger prints taken early morning on the 23rd. I assume that my position is frozen and that I’m in limbo. However, what are the chances that once the freeze is lifted, my TO will still be honored?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      It depends on the job and how it stacks up in the agency’s priorities. In past freezes, most job offers have been honored either as exemptions or following the freeze.

      Like

    • KB says:

      Hello,

      I received a tentative offer for an agency within the DOD. It is a computer systems administrator job / Helpdesk and HR told me that they hired 7 other people as well for this position so they are clearly hurting on staffing for it. I was offered the TO prior to the freeze and started the background check and drug testing. No firm offer has been extended and i doubt it would be prior to Feb 23rd, and i don’t think i could accept and move up there in time regardless.

      What do you think the chances are of the offer going thru in 3 months time frame, or would they just rescind the offer?

      Like

  12. Bill says:

    Any chance GS promotions will be frozen? I have a GS-13 to GS-14 promotion coming up in early Feb, will it be frozen? The position is non-competitive, internal and does not require posting but is beyond the max promotion level of my current position that ends at GS 13.

    Thanks Jeff!

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      Most hiring freezes do not apply to career promotions. If the promotion is in the same job, just at a higher level, and there will be no position left behind when you are promoted, it will most likely be OK.

      Like

  13. Shawn says:

    Again another decision made as a knee jerk reaction without knowing the facts

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  14. Raymond Balingit says:

    What are the chances of an Voluntary Early Retirement offer to qualified personnel?

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  15. Evon says:

    I’m an outsider (RN), received initial offer email in Sept 2016. I’ve done E-Qip, VetPro, fingerprints, physical and labs, and urine drug screen. I was also notified my folder received service chief approval to go to the Board for salary and start date decision. I can’t get my HR contact or anyone to respond to me by phone or email. So I’ve assumed the process has completely stopped due to the freeze. If I’ve gone this far in the process, what is the likelihood of me being brought on during the Freeze? How long does a typical government hiring freeze last, the whole 4 year term of the presidency?
    Any advise will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      This freeze will probably last about 3 months, then be followed by a period of downsizing with limited hiring. OMB guidance from Wednesday tells agencies to review cases where an offer was accepted but there is no firm reporting date. The agency can proceed with it or elect to rescind the offer. A health care job has a good chance of moving forward.

      Like

  16. Setlur says:

    I was offered a TO and received my choices of two EOD dates on Jan 19, I replied with my choice of EOD as 2/5 the same day, but before they could email me the firm EOD date with my reporting instructions, the Hiring Freeze PM was signed, and my offer was put on hold. After the OMB guidance I received an email from HR stating that my tentative start date is currently on hold, and that my selection/offer will still be valid when the freeze is lifted. I am currently employed with DHS, and I am simply moving from one position to another within the same agency, and with the same GS level. What are the chances of me getting my EOD approved either before the freeze ends or after the freeze ends? Do you think OMB will come-out with a new guidance on current federal employees like me who is just moving to another position within the same agency? Thank you.

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      DHS is among the agencies that are likely to be able to continue hiring in a significant number of positions based on the national security and public safety exemptions. The President has already announced his intent to grow parts of DHS. Reassignments within a component of DHS or any other agency are the type of exception that we typically see in hiring freezes. A move from one component of DHS to another would be a different matter.

      Like

  17. Larry says:

    Can you tell me how Student Pathways Internships will be affected?
    – I was hired as a pathways student intern with Dept of Transportation last year in May 2016.
    – I served in a 12 week paid internship position over the summer of 2016.
    – I am currently on leave without pay(LWOP) while I continue with my studies.
    – I am expecting to receive my next assignment in May 2017.
    – Will my pathways internship be continued?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      OMB/OPM have not released any guidance that addresses Pathways. It may be determined more by the type of position rather than the appointing authority.

      Like

  18. Richard says:

    I’m a federal employee at the GS-13 level. I applied for a DoD GS-14 position advertised in October 2016. I accepted the tentative job offer in December 21, 2016. I haven’t received the official offer. If the DoD agency has funding allocated for the position, can the transfer be rescinded, or will the transfer be placed on hold until OMB presents its plan? Will the promotion transfer be done after the 90 day freeze?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      Job offers can always be rescinded – they are not binding contracts. DOD is expected to release its freeze guidance this week. Given that you already got and accepted an offer, even tentative, you have a good chance of moving forward. How they proceed after the freeze will depend on the downsizing plan (if any) that DOD has to develop and the type of job you are getting.

      Like

  19. Josie says:

    Hello….my position was reclassified as GS13 in December 2016. I was informed I would be getting a promotion in December. My boss never completed the proper paperwork and I still have not received my promotion. Will my promotion be rescinded due to this Hiring Freeze?

    Like

  20. Teresa says:

    I am a federal employee that has been assuming all the duties of a higher graded employee who retired. Management wants to re-write my PD to reflect all of my current duties. Doing this could grade out my position/PD to a higher grade. If this happens, would the hiring freeze prevent the promotion?

    Like

  21. Lucia Fancher says:

    My husband received a TO back in December for a Training Specialist position with the FEMA Institute. He completed the E-quip right before the freeze was announced. He was told by HR yesterday that he was cleared by security but they didn’t have any guidance yet on how to proceed. Has FEMA or DHS decided what positions will be exempt?

    Like

  22. N says:

    I would like to add that term employees are currently being laid off. Normally a term is a year and a day appointment up to 4 years, however with this freeze… there is a lay off when you reach your anniversary date. We have many people about to loose their jobs.

    Like

  23. AB says:

    I interviewed for a position with my current agency that is a promotion. I was wonder if the fact that I haven’t heard anything (nor anybody else the I know applied for it) has to do with this. It was posted as an internal hire available to people int he entering department only.

    Like

  24. WorryWart says:

    I interviewed for a position on 1/20/17. If selected, it would result in a lateral transfer because the job is the same grade. Of course, due to the hiring freeze I can’t even find out if I was the selected candidate. The newest guidance issued by OBM/OPM states that agencies can move forward with internal agency transfers, reassignments, non-comp actions. Does this mean that I have a glimmer of hope that sooner, rather than later, agency to agency transfers and such will be approved? If selected for this position, it would result in a reassignment from one agency to another. This is very stressful for me to not know!!!

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      Agency-to-agency transfers would open a can of worms that OMB/OPM may want to avoid. I have seen that type of move allowed in hiring freezes and it can turn into an interagency food fight. The best bet is if the position can be supported under one of the exemptions.

      Like

  25. Laura Hansen says:

    Do you know why the Pathways Internship Program is exempt from the freeze, but not the Recent Graduates Program??

    Like

  26. Michelle says:

    We are hearing conflicting statements on the ability of intetnal promotions. We were told Thursday at ssa that all merit promotions were on hold. I am putting in for a position that closes this Friday.

    Someone told me this morning they heard the WH clarified internal promotions were not part of the freeze. Any insight?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      OMB said career promotions are allowed. That is when you applied and were selected for a position with promotion potential. This freeze most likely covers merit promotion. Even though the freeze may block it for now, if you see something advertised that you want, you should apply. Agencies can continue use to advertise and process jobs up to the point of making a selection. If you do not apply now, you may miss an opportunity when your agency is able to hire again.

      Like

  27. G says:

    What about a job With The USDA. the interview process has been done. They have offered an individual but the person has not accepted the job Yet. What will happen in this situation. Will the job be filled if the job is accepted today or will this job have to be advertised again on USA jobs after the freeze is lifted. How would this work.

    Like

  28. Karen says:

    Hi Jeff I received a firm job offer as a civilian police officer with a report date that was being negotiated what are the guidelines for this situation?

    Like

  29. Mitch says:

    It’s seems to me like it would be most logical for OPM to offer a VERA (voluntary early retirement) for all agencies. This would be the fastest way to trim the overall government workforce by 10 percent. But VERAs are not always coupled with buyout offers though, correct?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      VERA usually comes with buyouts, but it is not required. Agencies typically make the decision to offer buyouts based on how many takers they expect for VERA, whether VERA alone is enough or they need others to leave too, and on how much money they have. A round of VERA late in the fiscal year might not be possible if an agency does not have enough money to pay for it.

      Like

  30. Ken says:

    Can you explain the difference between career and merit promotion? I am a GS-13 who applied, interviewed, and was selected for a GS-14 position within the same organization. I am unsure if the hiring freeze affects me.

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      A career promotion is a non-competitive promotion where the competition occurred earlier. For example, if you apply and are selected for an 11 with promotion potential to GS-13, the promotions to get to the 13 level are career promotions. Merit promotion refers to the overall program of advertising positions that are open to current or former federal employees (and some veterans).

      Like

      • Michelle says:

        For what it’s worth yesterday my agency lifted the ban on processing personnel packages. Meaning they will prepare BQ lists etc so we are ready to go with selections when freeze is lifted.

        Like

      • WorryWart says:

        Hello. Can you state which agency you are currently working in? I am watching this hiring freeze like a hawk. I am currently an HR Specialist for DoD and I was in the process of transferring to HHS. The only hope I have right now is an exemption to include HR positions because it looks like transferring from one agency to another agency is not going to happen anytime soon 😦

        My agency has us preparing everything so that when the freeze is lifted we can move forward with opening announcements, issuing referral certs, and making tentative offers to those who were not fortunate enough to have an offer extended prior to this freeze. Can you imagine interviewing but due to the freeze not being offered a position? A horrible feeling to be in limbo.

        Like

  31. Niecy says:

    I moved and resigned from my job to get my position and I was not due to start until March 5 BC Jackson Mississippi was not having orientation. What are my options?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      You should contact the HR office and determine what guidance the gen you has published on exemptions. Depending on the job you were offered, you may already be covered. It may also be worth engaging your Senators/Representative.

      Like

  32. Aaron says:

    Mr. Neal I appreciate the well written article. My question is I am a current DOD employee and applied for a new position/series under VRA (Veteran Recruitment Appointment) and received a TO on Jan. 12. According to the DOD Guidelines published 2/2/2017. Section D of the memo covers actions that do not require exemptions to further include subcategory 6 which references VRA along with pathways programs. I don’t fully understand what “does not require exemptions” means when it comes to VRA appointments. Could you please clarify. Thank you!

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      Section D covers “Conversions in the ordinary course to the competitive service, of current DoD employees serving in positions with conversation authority, such as Veterans Recruitment Act and Pathways programs.” That is referring to a conversion from the initial excepted service appointment to the competitive service. There are several appointment types that start with excepted service appointments. The employee stays on the excepted service appointment for a fixed amount of time, then is converted from excepted to competitive service. This freeze exemption covers the conversion, not the initial appointment.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Fed says:

    Do we know why merit promotions haven’t been authorized even though they are internal actions? Is there any expectation that OPM/OMB will issue an exemption for them?

    Like

  34. Lucia Fancher says:

    Any news on DHS or FEMA exemptions?

    Like

  35. momto3inmd says:

    any news on DHS or FEMA exemptions? I hope they publish specific guidance soon.

    Like

  36. abraham says:

    is IRS cyber security jobs affected by Trump Freeze

    Like

  37. I am a Palace Acquire intern (Human Resources Specialist) as a GS-07/11 since January 2016. This position of course has promotion potential to a GS-11 over the course of my internship. Could my promotions be affected due to the hiring freeze?

    Like

  38. Mancy says:

    Any newz about NIH guidelines?

    Like

  39. Candice says:

    Mr. Neal if the hiring freeze is 90 days is that calendar days or business days? When would the 90 days end/expire? Also I was offered a position with the Department of Education, however was waiting for my background check to be scheduled, do you think the offer will still be valid or will I have to reapply for the position.

    Like

  40. Heids says:

    Any insight into what options Military Spouses have during the freeze? I was verbally selected for a job on 23 January and my active duty husband, along with our 2 kids are moving across the country in April. I was told to wait in my current position until the freeze is lifted and my paperwork can be processed. Sounds easy enough right?

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      I haven’t heard anything on military spouses, but I think they will have to do something to address the problem. It is hard enough to manage a career when you have to move, and the freeze is making it worse.

      Like

  41. Antoine says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Yes, I’m a veteran whom recently received a Job offer for a GS-3 position at a commissary In Germany. The issue is the memo was dated 24 January 2017 and the tentative date listed on my memo to start was 6 February 2017. After reading all the above I now understand that job offers are not contracts. My question is to you, is it a high possibility that my job offer can be revoked? I’m already hear in Germany awaiting word on the lift. Thank you

    Like

    • Jeff Neal says:

      It is possible that it could be revoked, but I would talk with HR and the hiring manager to get their take. They can let you know how they are handling the case-by-case reviews.

      Like

  42. Candace says:

    I was given a TO on Jan 17th from an agency under the DOT and ended up negotiating. This is an operations and properties position with over a couple hundred projects and a need for staffing to manage them within the agency, it is a permanent Excepted Service position. Based on the fear of being caught in the freeze, I had decided to accept the original offer in the midst of the negotiation on the 18th and then they came back and met my price. I received a new offer and signed it on Jan 23rd and was told I had passed the initial credit and security checks by this time. Then of course the freeze was announced that day. So based on the recent OMB memo, it is my understanding that the position should not be considered a “vacancy” since an offer went out before Jan 22nd, so I would think I was safe. Once I accepted the last offer, I asked when I would receive a final offer since by that time the hiring freeze had taken affect. HR said that final offers are “temporarily suspended and as soon as they would get updated info they would share it with me.” Since then a more detailed and updated memo from OMB/OPM was released so I left a vm for my HR contact and got no response. I then contacted the PM that had set up my interview and who works within the group I would be a part of. They told me that as far as they are aware the agency is only pushing through final offers right now and advised me to contact the HR person again via email and copy their superior (who is a GS the HR person is a contractor) and ask about the status. I am a little apprehensive about doing that because I don’t want to seem like a pain and I also don’t want to copy their superior yet unless I don’t hear crickets again. It has been a month since I heard from them and updates i.e. the new OMB/OPM memo have come out since then with clarity so I would like to know. Am I just waiting on more background investigation items? Or decisions from the new Secretary on the need for certain positions to be pushed through, should I wait out the 90 days and see and not contact them at all? Thank you.

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