Freeze Federal Hiring So Critical Feds Don’t Need to Be Furloughed, Lawmaker Says

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Four days before across-the-board budget cuts are scheduled to kick in, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., demanded the Obama administration commence a hiring freeze, citing a series of “low-priority" jobs advertised on USAJobs.gov. In a separate letter, Coburn sought cancellation of a multi-agency 100-city tour to promote grants.

The senator listed 10 currently posted vacancies he said should go unfilled before more essential positions are furloughed. In a letter Monday to Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Coburn listed vacancies ranging from State Department drivers making as much as $26 per hour; to a staff assistant to answer phones at the Labor Department who could earn up to $81,204 a year; to an Air Force historian who would work for up to $165,300 a year.

“At the same time the administration is warning sequestration could force laying off or furloughing U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, Defense civilian employees, or food safety inspectors, the federal government is also soliciting applicants for numerous lower priority jobs,” wrote the senator, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

“Not filling the jobs advertised in just these 10 vacancy announcements could save as much as $1.4 million that could be redirected toward more essential jobs being targeted for sequestration savings,” he said. “Instituting such a hiring freeze and re-assigning any of the necessary duties associated with each to current employees will allow federal agencies to adapt to the current fiscal realities without laying off or furloughing civil servants who are performing truly critical or absolutely necessary functions.”

The senator said federal managers must make choices similar to those he has recently made. “I conducted a top-to-bottom review of my office and eliminated seven full time positions over the past year while sending back more than $242,800 in office budget authority,” he said.

In separate a letter sent Friday, Coburn questioned the administration’s “Connecting to Your Community” tour, which he blasted as a “100-city government spending tour” designed to “promote federal largess.”

On Feb. 14, a federal contingent visited a suburb of Portland, Ore., to attend a daylong panel organized by the Beaverton Revitalization Roundtable. Hailed by some as a helpful event, the visit included Jay Williams, deputy director of White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, along with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments.

Williams said he would take away from the event a sense of a "sustained level of collaboration," The Oregonian reported the next day. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., at the time applauded the administration, the local Beaverton officials, state officials and “other key stakeholders for initiating a discussion on sustainable revitalization.”

But Coburn demanded documentation on the costs and total number of federal employees for each future stop on the community tour. “If Washington is truly cutting spending on missions many consider vital, how can we at the same time promise and promote more financial assistance, much less afford this mammoth 100-city cross-country tour?”

OMB did not respond to requests for comment by the time this article was published.

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