Like bears preparing for a potentially long, lean winter, some federal agencies are gearing up for a hiring binge in anticipation of an all-out freeze on federal hiring that could be only weeks away.
Rumors of the freeze have been circulating in the federal personnel community. It has charge of staffing the 357,000 civil service jobs here and of planning for the bureucracy that now has 2.5 million full-time workers.
Freeze talk has panicked some agencies that had hoped to take their time filling federal jobs that are much in demand these days. Now, some are pushing ahead with hiring plans, and making or preparing to make formal promises to job candidates so as not to be caught short if the freeze is ordered by President Carter.
Some top federal officials are angry with White House aides working on inflation-fighting techniques. They claim the staffers, have privately told business leaders the government will freeze hiring as a "gesture" and to hold down spending. Business leaders, who have been tipped off, also realize that a freeze would mean more federal work would be contracted out to the private sector.
Top federal officials yesterday confirmed that a freezer through 1978 is one of the options being "seriously" considered by the White House.
"I've heard so many starting dates (for the freeze) that I'm skeptical," one personnel director said.But six of seven directors contacted by this column said they believe a freeze is coming, and some said hiring plans already had been advanced because of the freeze rumor.
The president is calling for restraints from the private sector," one official said, "but he can't do anything except with the government. There is a lot of concern with appearance and a freeze is one way to make it look like something big is being done."
A personnel director said the prospect of a freeze, which he belives is coming "is typical financial managment thinking, but it is a helluva way to run a government."
The president is so committed to not hurting anybody" by firing federal workers because of reorganizations, another official said, "that his advisers may convince him that attrition is the way to handle it."
Manpower experts don't like flat personnel freezes because, they say, it leaves the wrong jobs vacant and takes away management control. "Hell, if somebody quits or retires during the freeze and the job is valuable, we can't fill it," one official said. Another complained that freezes consume "massive numbers of working hours handling appeals for exceptions to the freeze."
Most federal officials would prefer dollar or personnel ceiling controls to a freeze. "Let them assign us a percentage cut and we can make it intelligently," a personnel director said. "We can eliminate the jobs and programs that are marginal. A freeze leaves it up to chance."
The fact that the rumor is out, personnel chiefs say, is of itself damaging. "It makes people afraid and they go into crash hiring programs just to get bodies on the job. Nobody wants to be caught short if he thinks a freeze is coming." Most hope the White House will avoid a freeze. "But if they are going to do it, they should do it fast or forget it," an official said.
President Carter is known to be upset with increases in federal employment since he took office, an office he won in part with pledges to trim the bureaucracy. Most of the recent increases have been because of summer hiring. The federal work force in May included 1,582,118 full-time workers, an increase of 17,224 jobs since April. The monthly civilian payroll now runs in excess of $4 billion.