Federal Auditor Considering Review of Trump Hiring Freeze Effectiveness

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is one of the senators who requested the review. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., is one of the senators who requested the review. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The federal government’s chief auditor is determining whether it will assess the costs and pitfalls of President Trump’s federal hiring freeze following a request for the investigation from two Democratic senators. 

The Government Accountability Office should examine savings or losses from the freeze, the impact of the freeze on agencies’ budgets and mission, and whether contractors have or will likely replace the work previously done by federal employees, Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., wrote in a letter to the agency this week. Chuck Young, a GAO spokesman, said the agency has received the letter and is currently going through its “normal review process” to determine if it will conduct the audit.

The senators applauded the goals of the hiring freeze but said they were “extremely concerned" it would ultimately increase government spending and waste. In 1982, GAO reviewed hiring freezes instituted by Presidents Carter and Reagan. The auditors found the moratoriums did little to make government more efficient.

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“The government-wide hiring freezes had little effect on federal employment levels and it is not known whether they saved money,” GAO said. “Because they ignored individual agencies' missions, workload, and staffing requirements, these freezes disrupted agency operations and, in some cases, increased costs to the government.”

Rather than reducing the cost of labor overall, the auditors found that agencies developed “alternative sources” to get work done that increased spending.

“Any potential savings produced by these freezes would be partially or completely offset by increasing overtime, contracting with private firms, or using other than full-time permanent employees,” GAO said. “Decreased debt and revenue collections also occurred as a result of hiring freezes.”

A governmentwide hiring freeze fails to take into account actual workload, GAO said, and employee reduction should instead be “targeted to where it can best be absorbed.” The large swath of exemptions federal agencies have already built into the freeze may also offset potential savings.

Trump included in his memorandum that initiated the freeze a provision that prohibited agencies from turning to contractors to fill work left undone by the moratorium, though Carter and Reagan made virtually identical demands.

Peters and Heitkamp said they were “concerned that this freeze will do little to save money or reduce the size of the federal workforce.” They added they were also “concerned about the important programs and customer service needs that could be disrupted under this freeze. Across the board cuts and a shrinking of the total federal workforce are not the answer to making the federal government more efficient or effective.” The senators said the freeze could “negatively affect the talent and morale of our workforce.”

According to its spokesman, GAO will likely come to a decision on whether it will investigate the freeze in “a couple weeks.” 

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