The moratorium on senior executive appointments comes more than a month later than it did when Obama was leaving office.
Officials at the Office of Personnel Management last week belatedly issued a temporary hiring freeze on positions in the Senior Executive Service between now and President-elect Biden’s inauguration in less than two weeks.
Traditionally, OPM suspends the operations of agencies’ SES qualifications review boards during a presidential transition, effectively freezing the hiring and appointment of most senior executive positions so that the next administration can make its own choices in how to staff the upper echelons of the federal government.
“This is done to ensure the incoming head of the agency will have the full opportunity to exercise his or her prerogative to make or approve executive resources decisions that will impact the agency’s performance during his or her tenure,” wrote Dennis Kirk, OPM’s associate director for employee services, in a memo to agencies. “To that end, OPM has imposed a moratorium on the processing of a particular agency’s SES [qualifications review board] cases when the head of that agency departs for any reason, effective immediately upon the effective date of his or her departure.”
The freeze was announced Jan. 8, more than a month later than when the moratorium was imposed following the 2016 presidential election. It follows the similarly belated memo from the White House calling on all political appointees to submit letters of resignation before the inauguration, which went out on Jan. 7.
Kirk wrote that pending cases before agencies’ SES review boards that were submitted before Jan. 8 will continue to proceed. And agencies may receive dispensation to pursue SES appointments on a case-by-case basis if the position is needed “to ensure the continuity of agency operations.”
In those situations, agencies must fulfill a series of requirements to be eligible for an exception to the moratorium, including “addressing why it is critically important that an exception be granted” on national security or critical agency mission grounds, whether the next agency head would have “specific interest” in the position or the person being appointed to the job, and the length of the vacancy.
The senior executive hiring freeze marks the latest instance where the Trump administration has finally capitulated in recognizing the results of the presidential election. Good government groups have repeatedly called out agencies’ reluctance to engage in the presidential transition, including the General Services Administration’s slow ascertainment of Biden’s victory, the cancelling of transition team meetings with the Defense Department, and the slow release of the quadrennial Plum Book of top administration jobs.