Trump’s federal hiring freeze will make the swamp swampier

Bryce Covert

Bryce Covert Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

As one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump on Monday signed a presidential memorandum instituting a hiring freeze across the federal government, except for the military.

The move follows through on a pledge he made on the campaign trail, albeit a couple of days late, to halt federal hiring on his first day of office. This, he said, would “reduce federal workforce through attrition” and tie into his pledge to “drain the swamp” and address corruption. But past experience shows that across-the-board government hiring freezes don’t reduce the workforce or save money. On the contrary, they often increase costs while making the government’s work less accountable to the public.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office concluded as much in 1982. In a report released at that time that looked back at four previous freezes, it found, “Government-wide hiring freezes have not been an effective means of controlling Federal employment.”

Because freezes were doled out equally, regardless of each agency’s workload, agencies had to find other ways to get their work done — and many turned to contractors, which aren’t subject to the same transparency regulations as the government workforce. That includes disclosure laws like the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Register Act that make information on what employees do available to the public.

Contracting out of government work has continued in recent years, however; in the wake of hiring freeze imposed by President Obama, the number of contract workers has jumped, doubling between 1999 and 2010. There are now 3.7 million people contracted to do the government’s work, compared to 2.1 on its payrolls.

Freezes, the GAO found in 1982, also “caused decreased oversight of Federal programs by making it more difficult for the Inspector General offices to do their jobs.”

The report also couldn’t conclude that freezes save money. Contractors still have to be paid. Other agencies reacted to them by simply forcing existing employees to work more, which meant they had to be paid more through overtime, or by hiring part-time and temporary workers. And when agencies were forced to cut back on what they got done, it meant the government lost revenue and failed to collect debts. All of that ended up costing more money. “Any potential savings produced by these freezes would be partially or completely offset,” the GAO wrote.

Trump has also promised to be the “greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” But his action will mean thousands of people who would have otherwise been hired by the federal government must still wait for a job. The federal government had hired 42,000 people in October and another 41,000 in November, but now that process will come to a halt, even though it had another 81,000 jobs it wanted to fill as of November.

Although Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday afternoon that there has been a “dramatic expansion” of the federal workforce, it’s actually declined for some time outside of temporary spikes in Census years. By raw numbers it’s at a lower level than it was in 1967 and has shrunk dramatically as a share of the overall workforce.


Reposted from ThinkProgress.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media. Follow her on Twitter @brycecovert

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.


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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work