- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2017

President Trump ordered a freeze in federal civilian hiring Monday and hinted at even bigger changes to come, as he took quick early action to make good on his campaign promise to cut the size of government.

In a striking memo, the White House said not only has the government grown too quickly, but it hinted that employees are overpaid compared to the private sector — a conclusion that could signal future efforts to take on the massive and powerful federal bureaucracy.

Mr. Trump is reportedly looking to cut $10 trillion from projected federal spending over the next decade.

For now, though, the president started off small, forbidding managers from filling empty jobs or creating any new positions, unless there’s an overwhelming security need. He also ordered the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a more permanent attrition plan by the end of April.

“The symbolism of the freeze is important,” said Chris Edwards, editor of DownsizingGovernment.com. “Trump wants to show that there is a ‘new sheriff in town’ who wants to handle the federal workforce differently.”

The Congressional Budget Office last month estimated the government could save $50 billion over a decade if it imposed a three-to-one attrition freeze, hiring just one new employee for every three employees that leave. Mr. Trump’s freeze differs from the plan the CBO scored, going even further in limiting new hires.

CBO analysts said some agencies could handle the freeze without hurting their services. They said the federal workforce has become somewhat bloated with managers and supervisors whose jobs could be cut.

But the analysts also said federal employees are already under strain, with the total workforce about the same size as it was 20 years ago, even though the number of people the government serves has grown.

Democrats in Congress said federal workers have born the brunt of budget cuts in recent years, and said a hiring freeze will only make things worse.

“If President Trump had any experience with leadership in public service, he would know that our federal government cannot serve the American people without its talented, driven federal employees,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. said a hiring freeze won’t just hurt Washington, but will sock communities across the country where federal employees work.

“This hiring freeze will mean longer lines at Social Security offices, fewer workplace safety inspections, less oversight of environmental polluters, and greater risk to our nation’s food supply and clean water systems,” he said.

He also said cutting the number of federal workers will force the government to hire contractors, who he said end up costing as much as three times the price of a federal worker.

Mr. Trump, though, forbade the use of contractors to circumvent the new freeze.

The White House, in explaining the new order, said the federal workforce has grown from 1.8 million civilian employees during the Clinton administration to 2.1 million workers last year, all of them earning “generous” compensation packages such as pensions that have been ditched by the private sector for cost savings.

“We’ve got to respect the American taxpayer,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in detailing the hiring freeze.

The White House initially called the action an executive order, but the document Mr. Trump signed was actually labeled a presidential memorandum.

Mr. Edwards said the freeze should not be considered a radical move, saying private companies regularly go through cycles of workforce contraction.

“Until Trump and his team figure out exactly what budget reforms they want, a short-term freeze makes sense. Why fill empty slots at a bureau if the new administration later decides that it wants to freeze or downsize spending on the bureau?” he said.

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