Trump’s Federal Hiring Freeze May Kill Hundreds of Jobs for Nurses, Scientists and Engineers

A NIH Clinical Center Special Clinical Sudies Unit nurse stands in one of the unit’s patient care rooms. A NIH Clinical Center Special Clinical Sudies Unit nurse stands in one of the unit’s patient care rooms. NIH

On his first full day in office, US president Donald Trump announced a hiring freeze for the executive branch—outside of military personnel, national security, and public safety positions—and pledged to reduce the size of the federal government through workforce attrition. The federal government is the largest employer in the US, and the executive branch employs nearly 2.1 million civilians. Many are white-collar professionals, and the move seems designed to appeal to Trump voters rather than insure improvements in the US job situation as a whole.

Unions and veterans groups say the federal hiring freeze would make the government less efficient, and make it harder for the US military personnel to find jobs when they leave the service. (About a third of all federal hires are military veterans, although if they’re working security positions, for example, they may not be affected).

The freeze could also take off the table thousands of well-paying jobs for US citizens with higher education and specific skills.

Listed on the Federal jobs website as of Jan. 24, for example, were nearly 800 nursing positions, many of them for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services (and therefore likely outside the exception for military jobs), which pay anywhere from $40,000 to over $90,000 for experienced nurses who would be managing large departments. While Trump said on the campaign trail that jobs that affect “public health” would not be included, his memorandum does not make that exception.


Also listed are more than 60 civil engineering jobs, many of them with the Federal Highway Administration, that pay from $40,000 for recent graduates to over $90,000 for experienced engineers. A freeze on hiring highway engineering jobs as the administration is trying to rebuild the US’s infrastructure could be counter-productive.


Along with 265 information technology positions (some of those are in the legislative branch or the Army and therefore would not be subject to the executive order), the jobs site list dozens openings for computer scientists, with salaries ranging from about $80,000 to $130,000, and for biologists and natural resource scientists with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose future is in doubt.

Federal hiring freezes have been imposed in the past, including by presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. But there’s little hard evidence they have value. A 1982 report by the US’s General Accounting Office found that “government-wide hiring freezes have not been an effective means of controlling Federal employment,” and, while they provide an “illusion of control” on spending, they can disrupt agency operations and, in some cases, increase costs.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the hiring freeze is to counter a “dramatic expansion” of US government workers in recent years. While there was a slight uptick in federal workers overall (including military) as a percentage of overall workers in the early years of the Barack Obama administration, as US companies struggled with the global financial crisis, overall this percentage has been dropping for decades, as Quartz reported earlier.

By raw numbers, civilians in the executive branch dropped significantly in the past few years:

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.