Trump signs executive orders on federal hiring freeze, TPP withdrawal and global abortion policy–58fh.,b58
President Trump signed three executive orders on Monday morning that cancel an agreement for a far-reaching trade deal with Asia, start a hiring freeze for many federal government positions, and reinstitute an intermittent policy that prevents federal family-planning money from being sent to international organizations that discuss or perform abortion services.
Trump first signed an executive order formally ending the United States’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, fulfilling one of his core campaign promises. The move was largely symbolic, as the deal was unlikely to make it through Congress.
“We’ve been talking about it for a long time,” he said as he held up the executive order related to TPP. “Great thing for the American worker.”
Trump also had promised to take steps on his first formal day in office to begin renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, but that trade deal was not mentioned. He has said he will meet soon with the Canadian prime minister and the Mexican president to discuss renegotiating NAFTA.
Trump then signed an executive order that would implement a hiring freeze for many jobs in the federal government, another one of his campaign promises that he promised to fulfill on his first day in office.
“Except for the military,” he said as he signed the order. “Except for the military.”
Trump then signed a third executive order that resurrects an abortion-related rule known as the Mexico City policy, which tends to be embraced by Republican presidents and rescinded by Democratic presidents. The policy forbids foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive federal funding from performing or promoting abortion services through their work in other countries. The policy takes its name from the location of a conference at which President Ronald Reagan instituted the restriction in 1984. Opponents of this policy often call it the “global gag rule.”
Trump’s memorandum states that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances,” although the freeze does not apply to military personnel.
“The head of any executive department or agency may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities,” it reads, adding the head of the Office of Personnel Management can allow for hiring “where those exemptions are otherwise necessary.”
Trump also instructed the head of OPM to “recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition” within 90 days, at which point the hiring freeze would expire.
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who is hoping to enact broader civil-service changes that could make it easier to remove workers for misconduct and replace federal pensions with retirement plans often used in the private sector, said in an interview that he was “very supportive of freezing the net numbers of federal employees.”
But he said some agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service and those dealing with cybersecurity operations, had to be able to fill open positions.
Officials at the Pentagon said Monday evening that it wasn’t yet clear whether the freeze would exempt civilian Defense Department personnel, which number roughly 750,000, or only uniformed employees. One Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to address internal discussions, said that Pentagon lawyers were examining the directive.
Veterans — who make up 31 percent of the federal workforce — could also be disproportionately affected by the move because they receive a hiring preference when it comes to federal jobs. One unit of the Pentagon, according to an official who asked for anonymity to discuss personnel matters, is in the process of hiring between 20 and 30 veterans and is now looking at whether to put the hires on hold.
Depending on how the exemptions are interpreted, according to New York University public service professor Paul Light, the freeze might affect fewer than 800,000 employees, or more than one-fifth of the overall federal workforce.
“There’s real need for change in the federal government, and this is not the kind of change that’s constructive,” Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, said in an interview. “You don’t freeze into place what is already not what you want.”
Richard G. Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, noted that the federal workforce is now roughly 10 percent smaller than it was in 1967.Thissen said the freeze “would undermine the efficiency of government operations by creating hiring backlogs and inadequate staffing levels, and it is unlikely to save any money.”
Part of that expense stemmed from the hiring of contractors to compensate for staff reductions; Trump’s memorandum makes clear, however: “Contracting outside the Government to circumvent the intent of this memorandum shall not be permitted.”
President George W. Bush imposed a hiring freeze in 2001, but it affected only selected agencies. Under President Obama, some agencies, including the Pentagon, imposed hiring freezes because of budget constraints. Rachel Greszler, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said it made sense for Trump to impose an initial freeze so he can “evaluate things and see where the waste and inefficiencies are” in the federal government.
However, Stier said there are real deficiencies in the federal government already, and a freeze will just exacerbate them. The government spends nearly 80 percent of its $90 billion IT budget on operations and maintenance, and there are nearly three times as many employees over age 60 as under age 30.
The move will likely translate into a grayer federal workforce, where the average age is around 50. Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents federal workers in his Virginia district, noted that a third of career employees are eligible for end-of-career benefits in September 2017. Without replacements, the average age “gets a year older every year.”
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