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White House: Federal hiring freeze over, ‘surgical’ cuts begin

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration, in an attempt to remake the size and scope of the federal government, will inform federal agencies Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s federal ban on hiring is over. But the Office of Management and Budget expects agencies to begin implementing more “targeted” and “surgical” cuts to agency staffing.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday the guidance, which will go out to agencies Wednesday morning, is an attempt by the Trump administration to make good on the President’s promise to “drain the swamp,” a slogan that animated his 2016 campaign.

“This is really important to the President,” Mulvaney said when asked why Trump will be able to do what past presidents have failed to accomplish. “I can tell you that this is a big part of draining the swamp. … Really, what you are talking about doing is restructuring Washington, DC, and that is how you drain the swamp.”

Mulvaney called this plan a “centerpiece of his campaign.”

Trump, just days after he became President, signed a presidential memorandum imposing a hiring freeze on the federal government. Mulvaney said Tuesday that agencies will be asked to develop a plan to minimize employment by June 2017, which will be finalized by September 2017.

“What we are doing tomorrow is replacing the across-the-board hiring freeze that we put into place on day one in office and replacing it with a smarter plan, a more strategic plan, a more surgical plan,” Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney said he could not provide detailed figures on job cuts, but added that it “probably goes without saying (that) we think we can run the government more efficiently than the previous administration can.”

That means cuts.

The budget director, and former conservative member of Congress, said the reductions will reflect Trump’s proposed budget, which saw dramatic proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department and other non-defense agencies. Likewise, Mulvaney said the Defense Department and other defense-related agencies should expect job increases.

“The executive branch of government has never been rebuilt. It has grown organically” for decades, Mulvaney said. “The President of the United States has asked all of us in the executive branch to start from scratch.”

The subtext in this order is clear: Trump wants the government to run more like a for-profit business. And that was outlined by Mulvaney on Tuesday, who said that he spoke with top CEOs to hone ideas on how to make cuts.

Getting government growth under control has been the goal of many past presidents, though few have actually accomplished that objective.

A 1982 Government Accountability Office report on hiring freezes found, though, that those implemented by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter “had little effect on federal employment levels.”

Total executive branch federal government employment — not including uniformed military personnel and legislative and judicial branch personnel — has dropped dramatically since the high point in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it averaged about 3 million employees. In recent years (such as 2009-2014) it has continued to decrease, at a slower rate, from 2.77 million in 2009 to 2.66 million in 2014.

Additionally, there are concerns that hiring freezes and job cuts will adversely impact veterans, many of whom leave their service and hope to land federal government jobs.

A 2015 report by the Office of Personnel Management, found that veterans made up 44% of all full-time hires in the federal government.

In the counties around Washington — some of the richest in the country — there are also concerns at how sweeping federal government cuts will impact the local economy.

Mulvaney said federal employees shouldn’t be depressed, but noted that some people “need to recognize that there are bigger issues at play.”

“We are trying to figure out a way to make the government more responsive, more accountable,” he said. “And that means taking care of the people who are doing a good job.”