Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is one of the senators making the request.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is one of the senators making the request. Cliff Owen/AP

Lawmakers Ask Obama to Freeze Hiring Until Trump Arrives

Republican senators warn against “burrowing in” and new career hires who won’t help execute the next administration’s policies.

Two Republican senators want President Obama to implement a governmentwide hiring freeze for most federal jobs for the rest of his term so current political appointees don’t try to burrow into the civil service before the Trump administration arrives in January.

Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Thom Tillis of North Carolina asked Obama in a Dec. 1 letter to “consider setting a new precedent for presidential transitions” by putting in place a hiring freeze “on all career civil servant positions, except those in public health or safety.” The lawmakers pointed to a recent Government Accountability Office report that of the 69 Obama appointees who converted to career employee status in their agencies, or “burrowed in,” between 2010 and 2015, 17 of them did not receive approval from the Office of Personnel Management, as is required by law.

“Not only is ‘burrowing in’ unfair to applicants without an inside connection, it further contributes to the possibility that federal workers may attempt to undermine the policies of the new president,” wrote Tillis and Johnson, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

But the senators also said they wanted to make sure that agencies didn’t go on a hiring spree over the next six weeks before the new administration takes over.

“Because we know that you are sincere in overseeing a smooth transition, we hope members of your administration will resist the urge to accelerate the hiring of career civil servants who may not share the priorities of the new administration,” the letter said. “There is no doubt that thousands of dedicated civil servants faithfully serve in positions across the federal government without regard to who occupies the White House. However, it would be unfair to those employees, and to the American people, if they are joined by others who may not be willing to properly execute the policies of the new administration."

President-elect Donald Trump has promised to implement a governmentwide hiring freeze when he takes office, saying it would be one of his top priorities early on. The Republican said he would exempt jobs in the military, public safety and public health from the freeze. 

A 1982 GAO report on governmentwide hiring freezes under Presidents Reagan and Carter found that they “had little effect on federal employment levels and it is not known whether they saved money.” The report also concluded that “because they ignored individual agencies' missions, workload, and staffing requirements, these freezes disrupted agency operations and, in some cases, increased costs to the government.”

Jason Briefel, legislative director at the Senior Executives Association, said such a hiring freeze to prevent burrowing in “seems a bit extreme.” He added that while appropriate oversight from lawmakers on burrowing in is “welcomed and warranted,” an across-the-board hiring freeze with a few exceptions could inhibit agencies from being able to accomplish their missions.