Lawmakers Attempt to Add Veterans to Growing List of Hiring Freeze Exemptions

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced a bill that would carve out an exception for all veterans. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced a bill that would carve out an exception for all veterans. Molly Riley/AP

A group of 22 Democratic lawmakers is pushing for President Trump’s hiring freeze to exempt any veteran applying for a federal job.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., introduced a bill this week to allow federal agencies to bypass Trump’s memorandum instituting a moratorium on hiring if the applicant previously served in the armed forces. Nearly 31 percent of federal employees are veterans, Lynch noted, and about one in three new hires in fiscal 2015 was a veteran. The bill, he said, would demonstrate the government would not “close its doors” to veterans.

“President Trump’s federal hiring freeze not only hurts everyday Americans seeking a prompt response from a federal agency, but also makes it difficult for veterans looking for employment in the federal government across the country,” Lynch said. “Veterans have earned their hiring preference and I am deeply concerned that the federal hiring freeze will disproportionately hurt America’s veterans.”

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The bill would allow agencies to both fill vacancies with veterans and create new positions for them. The American Legion and Disabled American Veterans have endorsed the legislation.

The Trump administration has already carved out a number of exemptions from the freeze, and gave agency leaders significant discretion to protect other positions as they saw fit. The departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense have put out specific guidelines that allos managers across their organizations to continue hiring.

The Office of Personnel Management recently issued further clarifications on the hiring freeze through “frequently asked questions” guidance sent out to all agencies. In it, OPM told officials to continue recruiting for vacancies. OPM instructed agency leaders to provide “regular updates and communications” and to “manage applicant expectations.” Recruiting activities for positions subject to the freeze can include posting job announcements, assessing applications and conducting interviews. Agencies cannot make any actual offers for those positions, however.

OPM discouraged agency heads from delegating exemption determination responsibilities to component leaders, but said they could do so in “some limited circumstances.” Agencies may hire when directed to do so by court order or a decision by a third-party entity such as the Merit Systems Protection Board, and can onboard certain employees required to assist individuals with disabilities.

While previous guidance instructed agencies they could make internal, career-ladder promotions, they cannot make competitive promotions. They also cannot hire using merit promotion procedures, nor can they re-hire civil service retirees. Agencies can, however, non-competitively convert employees such as Presidential Management Fellows and interns in the Pathways program already on the rolls to full-time, competitive workers. OPM also clarified that agencies can non-competitively reassign, detail or temporarily promote workers through the reallocation exemption spelled out in Trump’s memo.

OPM will continue to process Senior Executive Service candidates through the Qualification Review Board, but the candidates will still be subject to the freeze. 

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