Freeze possibility has feds shivering

Feet cold? Put on a hat. If anything, we're entering a golden age for federal HR.

Get in a room full of federal human resources people and the question comes up inevitably: What if there’s a hiring freeze?

Someone worriedly asked it at my lunch table during the HCMG conference the other day. I piped up. “Absolutely nothing” will change if the Trump administration imposes a hiring freeze in January. First of all, a freeze would exempt so many functions as to exclude probably half the federal population in the first place. Agencies with funded openings would likely be able to go ahead.

Study after study shows hiring freezes don’t have any effect on federal employment levels or costs. Yet federal employment levels do go up and down as budgets and administration policies play out over time. Office of Personnel Management figures show executive branch employment, which peaked during the George H.W. Bush administration, has been steadily, if slowly, undulating up and down around the 2.6 million mark since 2000. (The peaks reflect temporary hiring for Census counts.) Right now it’s roughly at the same level as during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Looking at OPM tables, you’d have to say the modern day president that seems to have cut federal employment permanently and the most was Bill Clinton.

For a steady and dramatic drop, look at the figures for uniformed military personnel, which is now half of 1962 levels.

So no, a half-baked freeze for a few months won’t make any difference.

If anything, we’re entering a golden age for federal HR.

For instance:

  • long-overdue rewrite of federal HR policies and procedures comes out, in draft form at least, early next year. They’re supposed to make the HR function more strategic and less measured by how many requisitions an HR office processes.
  • HR people are waking up to the fact that they have, count ’em, 106 hiring authorities to let them do what they need to get the right people in as fast as required. In many ways, federal hiring resembles the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Like a violin, they seem impossible to play but with a little training and practice you can do anything — legally. Angela Baily, the chief human capital officer at the Homeland Security Department and a former OPM policy person, admonishes colleagues for complaining about the hiring process instead of learning to play it better.
  • Agencies are learning how fast you actually can get people in. At the conference, DHS chief information officer Luke McCormack and Bailey partnered on a hiring fair at which 200 people received tentative offers for tech jobs throughout DHS. They even set up a security screening booth to check out potential hires on the spot. They’re planning another fair to help fill hundreds more funded openings.

While some existing career people whine “woe is me” over the prospect of Donald Trump as president, others realize the mission and technology challenges of governments are great enticements to potential employees of all ages. They’re discovering new ways to get them in.

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories