Trump administration ends hiring freeze, starts government reorganization effort

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A hiring freeze President Donald Trump instituted by executive memorandum in January will end Wednesday, as part of the Trump administration’s plan to reform and restructure the federal government. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says the freeze will be replaced by a “smarter, more strategic, surgical” plan that goes into effect immediately.

Mulvaney’s memo to agency and department heads says the goal of the effort is to “make government lean, accountable, and more efficient.” Mulvaney cited Trump’s March 16th budget blueprint, and March 13th Executive Order on government reorganization, as the first steps in the administration’s journey to reshape the government, and this effort, called the “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce” in the memo, as the latest step.

The White House plan requires agencies to start immediately on three priorities: looking for workforce cuts and cost savings, directed toward reaching the funding outlined in the administration’s FY 2018 budget blueprint; building a plan to optimize workforce performance, to be submitted to the White House by June 30th ; and building an Agency Reform Plan as part of the materials agencies submit for the FY 2019 budget submission in September. That plan, the memo says, should include “long-term workforce reductions.” A “high-level” draft of each agency’s plan is also due to the White House by June 30th .

“The Executive Branch of government has never been rebuilt,” Mulvaney said at a briefing at the White House Tuesday. “It has grown organically over the course of the last 240 years. The President of the United States has asked all of us in the executive branch to start from scratch, a literal blank piece of paper, and say, ‘if you were going to rebuild the executive branch, what would it look like?’”

The reorganization is the latest in a series of efforts every administration since President Reagan has made to revamp the size, shape, and scope of the federal government. But Mulvaney believes this one is different because of the importance of the issue to the President. “This is the first administration that has made this a priority in a really, really long time. I know President Clinton may have tried, and President Reagan may have tried, but as evidenced by the fact that we did this on Day One, clearly it’s a priority of this administration, and we hope Congress gets that message as well.”

Mulvaney acknowledged that the administration may need help from Congress but he cautioned that until agencies respond to the White House’s directive to submit their reform plans, building good will, and outlining specific legislative priorities, on Capitol Hill would be difficult. “We’ve been talking to the appropriators as part of [the fiscal year] 2017 [budget process], so they know this is coming. But we have not sat down and said ‘this is what we want to do,’ because we don’t know what we want to do yet.

The memo makes several mentions of requirements for agencies to at least seek opportunities to reduce the size of their workforces. Mulvaney declined to speculate on whether agencies would be forced to slash jobs, and stated there may be agencies that can make a case that they need to add employees. But at least some downsizing is likely coming. “We think we can run the government more efficiently than the previous administration [could],” Mulvaney said. “And we think we run the government with fewer people than the previous administration did.”

He also declined to name specific agencies that definitely would lose or gain employees. The administration’s desire to align this plan to budget documents, Mulvaney said, will be a way to gain insight into potential cuts. “Given the proposed reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency in the budget, they would have to reduce the size of the workforce, and it’s up to them to come up with ideas, and effectively put the President’s priorities into play. At the other end of the spectrum, clearly you would expect the DoD, and probably the Veterans Administration, to get larger.”

The administration’s plan, though, is not a plan for cutting the government just for the sake of cutting the government, Mulvaney claims. He emphasized that the effort is more informed by the Trump administration’s interest in improving operations in a style similar to business reorgs, than by Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s stated desire to “deconstruct the administrative state.” “This is about good government. It’s not about big government; it’s not about small government,” Mulvaney said. “That is what I think the President talks about when he talks about ‘draining the swamp.’ People back home look at Washington DC, and if they’re on the left, the right, in the middle, if they don’t know where they are philosophically, they know that Washington doesn’t function well. What the Businessman-in-Chief has done is come to us and said, ‘make sure this government functions properly.’”

Mulvaney said he understands that federal employees may find this initiative intimidating, and perhaps even depressing, but he believes “they shouldn’t. One of the frustrations government workers have is that we don’t reward those who do a really good job, and we don’t punish those who do a lousy job. That is one of the things we’ve asked the agencies to look at. I think it’s wrong to paint with a broad brush and say, ‘because we are going to be reducing the overall size of government, that means we should just focus on who’s getting fired.’ That’s the wrong message to take from this. The right message is, we’re trying to figure out a way to make the government more responsive and more accountable. That means taking care of the people who are doing a good job. The President wants to reward good employees. He’s famous for that.”

Perhaps the major adjustment for agency processes and procedures will be alterations to this summer’s interactions with OMB. Today’s memo says that instead of meeting for FedStat and strategic review sessions as agencies usually do in July, OMB will instead meet with CFO Act agencies and “a limited number of other agencies” to review progress on meeting OMB’s requirements. Mulvaney writes in the memo that “these discussions will serve as a forum for OMB to provide feedback, which agencies can incorporate into their draft Agency Reform Plans due in September to OMB.” Mulvaney writes that once those summer discussions are complete, he will expect agencies to begin immediately implementing the reforms on which they and OMB agree.

Here’s the text of that memo in its entirety: Executive Order M-17-22,

Government Matters executive producer George Jackson contributed to this report.