President Trump signs executive orders in January, including the hiring freeze.

President Trump signs executive orders in January, including the hiring freeze. Ron Sachs / Pool via CNP /MediaPunch/IPX

Senior Executives Leader Calls for Selective Pause in Hiring Freeze

Professional association president cites “leadership vacuum” at certain agencies.

Citing President Trump’s recent statement that he may not fill all vacant top agency jobs, the Senior Executives Association on Thursday asked for a selective pause in the hiring freeze.

The freeze announced by Trump in January, “coupled with other factors such as natural attrition, the presidential transition and limited ability to backfill positions, has created a critical ‘leadership vacuum’ within the federal government,” SEA President Bill Valdez wrote in a letter to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and acting Office of Personnel Management Director Kathleen McGettigan. “As a result, I am writing to request that you provide immediate relief to those agencies that have vacant mission critical career leadership positions exacerbated by the hiring freeze.”

The leadership vacuum has occurred, Valdez said, because “senior career leaders in ‘acting positions’ do not have the full authority required to do their jobs,” because many of them are “double-hatted” and because “there has been natural attrition in the ranks of senior executives since January 20th due to retirements.”

The SEA welcomed Trump’s statement, made to Fox News, that some of the positions wouldn’t be filled. “This is wise public policy because SEA believes there should be a bright line between political appointees who are tasked with developing the president’s policy agenda and the career senior executives who execute that agenda,” the letter said.

Though SEA has long advocated smooth cooperation between career executives and political appointees, it has also recommended that some positions that in the past were filled by political appointees – such as chief information officers, chief human capital officers and principal deputies – be “classified as ‘career reserved’ to guarantee that there are no gaps in work flows and knowledge between administrations.”

The Washington Post estimated that 811 non-career positions were left vacant when the Obama administration ended, the letter noted. OPM “has the latitude to grant agencies the ability to fill these non-career slots with career SES positions.” 

Valdez stressed that the positions of career executives who are acting and double-hatted should not remain vacant. “If the Trump Administration has determined that these positions should be filled with career senior leaders, then that should occur as soon as possible,” he said. “We believe that a process should be in place to define which of those positions will not be filled by the Trump administration and should be allocated to the career SES given their importance to the functioning of government.”