WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump signed a memorandum Monday that temporarily freezes hiring for some federal government workers as a way to reduce payrolls and rein in the size of the federal workforce.
Trump’s directive is fulfilling one of his campaign promises. He told reporters that members of the military will be exempted from the hiring freeze.
The new president has vowed to take on the federal bureaucracy and the action could be the first step in an attempt to curtail government employment.
The memorandum signed by Trump’s is similar to one that President George W. Bush signed at the start of his administration in 2001.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, speaking at the White House Monday afternoon, said the hiring freeze “counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.”
The hiring freeze temporarily prevents federal agencies from filling vacant positions and creating new positions, except when necessary to meet national or public security responsibilities, Spicer said.
“We’ve got to respect the American taxpayer,” Spicer said the news conference. “They’re working real hard. Some people are working two, three jobs just to get by. And to see money get wasted in Washington on a job that is duplicative is insulting to the hard work that they do to pay their taxes.”
The federal civilian workforce — excluding the U.S. Postal Service — numbered 2.06 million employees in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available from the Office of Personnel Management. In 2008, the final year of the George W. Bush administration, there were 1.96 million federal civilian employees.
About 85 percent of federal employees are estimated to live outside the D.C. area.
Trump’s memo said the hiring freeze would remain in effect until his administration recommends a long-term plan for reducing the size of the federal government’s workforce through attrition. That plan is due within 90 days, according to the memo.
In addition, the order prohibits agencies from hiring private contractors to perform work “to circumvent the intent” of Trump’s memo. Federal agencies can reallocate funds “to meet the highest priority needs and to ensure that essential services are not interrupted and national security is not affected,” the memo stated.
Federal employee unions blasted the order saying it will be counterproductive and lead to a reduction in government service.
The freeze could disproportionately affect veterans, because it will cut off a common career path for transitioning veterans, according to J. David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“It’s going to cost veterans, because a high number of federal employees are veterans, coming out of the military, they go to work for the federal government,” Cox told WTOP.
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in a statement the order will “leave agencies scrambling to serve the public.”
Former President Barack Obama issued a two-year freeze on federal worker pay starting in 2010, a part of a round of governmentwide budget tightening. Congress later extended the pay freeze another year.
Also on Monday, Trump reinstated a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information about abortions and signed a memo to leave the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — fulfilling another campaign pledge.
WTOP’s Jack Moore and Dick Uliano contributed to this report.
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