Defense Could Be Next to Announce Hiring Freeze Exemptions

Defense Department file photo

The Defense Department is finishing up guidance that addresses which civilian jobs it plans to exempt from President Trump’s hiring freeze, according to a spokesman.

The departmentwide guidance “will provide additional information with respect to exemptions related to the department’s national security and public safety responsibilities,” said DoD spokesman Johnny Michael by email.

Trump’s Jan. 23 presidential memorandum authorizing the freeze said that agency heads “may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” The freeze “applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding,” the order stated. It does not apply to military personnel.

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So far, the Veterans Affairs Department is the only major department to release guidance on which positions it will exempt from the freeze.

Eight senators from states with Navy shipyards sent a Jan. 26 letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis urging him to exempt Navy shipyard civilian jobs from the hiring freeze.

“The public shipyards are currently hiring hundreds of new employees who must complete years of training before they are able to maintain and repair naval vessels,” wrote the group of lawmakers. “A civilian hiring freeze at naval shipyards will severely impact this training pipeline resulting in maintenance delays and higher costs. The presidential memorandum states that the freeze is not intended to impact national security; however, freezing the hiring of civilian employees who will support critical fleet maintenance will directly undermine national security.”

The letter was signed by Republican Susan Collins; Independent Angus King of Maine; and Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

The senators noted that exempting naval shipyard civilian employees was “not without precedent,” citing a 2013 memorandum from then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that exempted those workers from sequestration-related furloughs to avoid critical delays in maintenance on nuclear vessels.

Ryan Nickel, a spokesman for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, said on Monday that the office had not heard yet from Defense on the matter. “There’s no additional guidance that I’m aware of,” Nickel said.

The forthcoming DoD-wide guidance will help the department's HR personnel determine how to handle civilian job vacancies during the length of the hiring freeze. The naval shipyard positions are likely to be exempted, according to one person familiar with the matter.

In addition to national security and public safety exemptions, another limit on executive branch hiring freezes exists, according to the Congressional Research Service. A Jan. 26 CRS analysis on Trump’s hiring freeze said that if “Congress appropriates specific funds for the hiring of civil service members, and those funds have not been disbursed before a hiring freeze, for example, that freeze might contradict the terms of the appropriation. Similarly, the Impoundment Control Act obligates the president to spend appropriated funds absent a bill rescinding those funds. Without the passing of such a bill, it could be argued that a hiring freeze that prevented appropriated funds from being spent could violate the act.”

The Federation of American Scientists published the CRS report.

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