Bush chills federal hiring, but stops short of a freeze

Hours after being sworn in as the nation's 43rd president, George W. Bush instructed federal agency heads to put a hold on all hiring until his appointees can approve personnel decisions. In a memo to heads and acting heads of executive agencies, Andrew H. Card Jr., Bush's chief of staff, placed several controls on federal hiring to ensure that new hiring decisions are consistent with Bush's government reform agenda.

"The President proposed, among other things, to flatten the federal hierarchy by redistributing positions and resources from high-level managerial positions to front-line, service delivery jobs," the memo said. To achieve that goal, "no decision relating to hiring shall be made unless and until such decision is reviewed and approved by a department or agency head appointed by the President after noon on Jan. 20, 2001," the memo said. Independent agencies are "encouraged" to adopt the hiring controls. An OPM spokesman said that the memo does not call for a government hiring freeze, but rather asks agencies to implement certain hiring controls, and to review any new hires carefully. Officials in the White House press office confirmed the memorandum did not implement a freeze on federal hiring. "It's not a freeze," said spokeswoman Claire Buchan, "it's saying no decision will be made until it's reviewed by an agency head." According to the memo, agency heads may delegate the power of review. And certain positions, such as those affecting safety, health, national security, or the provision of essential government services, are exempt from the mandate. However, agencies are prohibited from using government contractors as a means of getting around the rule, the memo said. The memo cites the delivery of Social Security or veterans benefits as examples of essential government services. An OPM spokesman said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Department were other agencies where exceptions would likely be considered. White House officials did not say how long the mandate will be in effect. Eventually, agency heads will be asked to develop a plan for meeting Bush's goal of reducing the federal bureacracy, the memo said. "Together, with prompt and diligent implementation of this memorandum, we can begin to work toward the President's goal of ensuring that his administration serves the American public in the most efficient and responsible manner possible," Card wrote.

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