Agency Jobs Watch: Health and Human Services Continues Its Hiring Freeze

This list was updated on May 19 with information from the Health and Human Services Department and Social Security Administration. 

The Office of Management and Budget has lifted President Trump’s hiring freeze for federal agencies, freeing them to take a more “surgical” approach to downsizing and reshaping their workforces. OMB does not plan to micromanage the efforts, instead allowing agencies to draft their own “high-level” reform plans by June 30. In September, after discussions with OMB’s Resource Management Offices, agencies will submit their final reform plans and long-term strategies for workforce cuts as part of their fiscal 2019 budget proposals.

How have agencies responded to this new freedom? Some are voluntarily extending the hiring freeze until they can get their bearings and have more budget certainty. Others have already decided to offer buyouts. And at least one large department plans to reorganize without cutting its workforce.

Below is a look at how agencies are approaching workforce changes. We will continue to update this list as we get new information. Please use the comment section at the bottom to let us know if we’ve missed any activity at your agency.

Buyouts/Early Retirement

  • Environmental Protection Agency: The agency plans to offer a buyout and early retirement program, according to an April memo by acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn. The memo did not provide many details on the program, except that EPA’s goal is to complete it by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
  • State Department: The department is continuing its hiring freeze while it finalizes its workforce restructuring plan, but a report from Bloomberg in late April said a preliminary version of the plan would involve cutting 2,300 jobs, about 600 of them through buyouts.

Hiring Freeze Extension

  • Broadcasting Board of Governors: BBG will not hire anyone -- even candidates who have already been selected for positions -- until at least May 1, CEO and Director John Lansing wrote in an email to employees.
  • Defense Department: Secretary James Mattis on May 2 sent a memo allowing hiring to begin, but asking leadership to focus on the “necessity and prudence” of recruitment and hiring actions going forward.
  • Environmental Protection Agency: The agency is continuing its hiring freeze for now, but plans to offer buyouts later this year (see above).
  • NEW Health and Human Services Department: HHS has continued its hiring freeze, according to a Washington Post report. While certain positions, such as physicians and public health crisis responders, are exempted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has racked up 700 vacancies. At a speech to employees in May encouraging employees to "reimagine" the department, HHS Secretary Tom Price said he was "not looking to achieve an arbitrary financial goal or workforce numbers." 
  • NEW Social Security Administration: The Social Security Administration had a hiring freeze in place that predated Trump; the agency has blocked new employees since May 2016. The new omnibus spending bill will allow SSA to do "limited hiring" for direct service positions only, according to a spokeswoman. 
  • State Department: State will continue the hiring freeze “across the board,” spokesman Mark Toner said during an April 13 briefing. This means both civil servants and Foreign Service officers will be subject to the freeze, which will continue until the department’s reorganization plan is complete. (Toner said he was not sure about political appointees). In a glimpse of what the reorganization might entail, Bloomberg in late April reported that State will cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants, or 9 percent of its American workforce worldwide. Most of the cuts would come through attrition but 600 could be accomplished through buyouts (see above). The plan was not finalized at the time of the article.  
  • Transportation Security Administration: TSA will continue the hiring freeze for all non-front line positions “until we receive greater clarity on the fiscal year 2018 budget outcome,” acting Deputy Administrator Gary Rasicot said in a memorandum to employees in mid-April. Airport screeners will not be subject to the freeze, but headquarters and support positions will remain vacant.
  • Veterans Affairs Department: The department on April 26 announced that it had lifted the hiring freeze for Veterans Health Administration medical facilities and for Veterans Benefits Administration regional and field offices. "However, in order to streamline VA’s corporate structure and administrative positions, VA will maintain a process that requires thorough review before hiring,” the announcement stated. “Hiring in the administrations must have the appropriate Under Secretary level approval; and at VA’s Central Office, the Chief of Staff must approve.”
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