Social Security Administration chief Andrew Saul testifies at his confirmation hearing last fall. Saul instituted the hiring freeze on July 31.

Social Security Administration chief Andrew Saul testifies at his confirmation hearing last fall. Saul instituted the hiring freeze on July 31. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Social Security Administrator Institutes Partial Hiring Freeze

Unions say they have not been briefed on the measure, which applies to all headquarters components and regional offices.

Social Security Administrator Andrew Saul implemented a partial hiring freeze for the agency late last month, citing a need to “ensure that the agency’s resources are directed to improving public service.”

Saul, who was confirmed to his position in June, issued a hiring freeze on July 31 for all headquarters components and regional offices. Not included in the freeze are direct public service and workload positions at Social Security’s teleservice centers, processing centers, area and local field offices, and State Disability Determination Services.

According to guidance posted to the agency’s intranet and obtained by Government Executive, the agency has also established a process for managers to request exemptions to the hiring freeze on a case-by-case basis.

Social Security Administration spokesman Darren Lutz confirmed the new policy to Government Executive, but did not answer questions regarding how long the freeze is expected to last.

“Commissioner Saul’s highest priority is to improve service to the public,” Lutz said. “To ensure that agency resources are focused on this, he implemented a hiring freeze on July 31, 2019.”

Although the hiring freeze has been in place for more than a week, unions representing Social Security employees said they did not learn of its existence until Wednesday. Management had not responded to requests for a briefing on the policy as of Thursday afternoon, said Melissa McIntosh, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges.

“It’s difficult to know the impact at this point,” she said. “I will say that it’s caused a lot of concern among judges to have this freeze and just not to know the parameters, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. There was anticipation of the agency hiring a new class of judges in September, and if that doesn’t happen, we’d want to know. But we just don’t know.”

Lutz did not respond to questions regarding why the agency had not informed or briefed any of the unions—the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union also represent SSA employees—either before the freeze was implemented or in the week since then.

NTEU National President Tony Reardon encouraged agency leadership to take a more proactive approach in informing its workforce of policy changes.

“There is no formal requirement for SSA to notify NTEU of a hiring freeze,” Reardon said. “However, in the interest of good labor-management relations, the agency should have communicated with employees in a more timely and transparent way.”