The lawmaker with chief oversight responsibility of federal agencies is warning them against binge hiring out of fear of a hiring freeze under the incoming Donald Trump administration.
Leaders of 18 Cabinet-level agencies received a letter this week from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, saying a looming freeze did not entitle them to bypass merit systems principles in hiring. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman asked the agency heads to provide his panel with a list of all job openings for positions in General Schedule-13 posted or higher since the election, how many individuals applied and the date of hire. Chaffetz also requested data on hiring timelines in 2015 for comparison.
The chairman made the request after a Washington Post report accused agencies of expediting hiring in advance of the president-elect’s inauguration, and data from the federal hiring website USAJOBS he said corroborated it. Trump has promised to block federal agencies across government from hiring new employees immediately upon being sworn in. He said he would carve out national security and public health positions, but has yet to spell out the details of those exceptions.
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“The department cannot disregard the merit principles undergirding the civil service for political considerations,” Chaffetz wrote in his letters. “Hiring decisions must be legitimate, justified and free from political influence.”
Chaffetz said the online postings were live for “as little as two weeks,” which includes the holiday period.
“The accelerated hiring timelines create the appearance that some federal agencies are pushing to fill as many slots as possible without regard for identifying and hiring the most qualified applicants,” he wrote.
Congressional Democrats and members of the Obama administration -- such as acting Office of Personnel Management Director Beth Cobert -- have implored Trump not to follow through with his proposed freeze, saying it would prevent agencies from carrying out their missions in a timely fashion. At least one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, Maine (along with Sen. Angus King, I-Maine), has asked Trump to refine the plan, writing a letter to the president-elect suggesting the hiring moratorium not apply to mission-critical employees at the Veterans Affairs Department.
Trump’s transition team did not respond to multiple requests for more information on details for their implementing its proposal.
Chaffetz made another attempt at restricting federal hiring this week, reintroducing a bill that would prevent agencies from onboarding applicants who are delinquent on their tax debts. It would also fire any seriously delinquent current employees who do not demonstrate within 180 days they are working to resolve their outstanding debts. It also provides a financial hardship exemption “if the individual’s service is in the best interests of the United States.” Chaffetz has introduced a similar measure for several consecutive sessions of Congress. It failed to clear the House last year despite receiving 266 votes, as a procedural hurdle required two-third of lawmakers to support it.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the nature of the exemption requested by Sens. Collins and King for VA.