Thousands of people -- U.S. employes and those who would like to be U.S. employes -- are out in the cold as a result of President Reagan's legally shaky decision to backdate the federal hiring freeze to Nov. 5.
On a typical day, 1,500 new people come into government, and another 100 transfer from one agency to another. People trying to get into the federal establishment now, as well as those trying to move to another federal establishment, are in limbo and will be until the freeze is clarified.
For many caught in the freese the situation ranges from comic to tragic. There is the case of the Commerce Department worker who, after lining up another job in another agency, told his boss what he could do with the job. Under the current interpretation of the freeze guidelines, that man and his boss will have to live together for a while yet, if you can call that living.
Hundreds of people whose federal job offers were dated after Nov. 5 have sold homes and pulled kids out of school to come to Washington. Most of them have been told they can't be put on the payroll. The lucky ones are living with friends, the not-so-lucky ones are stashed in hotels and motels here, or just signed leases for apartments although they now have no income, or job prospects, to pay next month's rent.
The problem is not that Reagan froze federal hiring. He has been saying since July that he would do it. On Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, this column reported that the Reagan team was considering backdating the freeze to Dec. 31. That was considered wild, wild talk by many. Reagan did impose the freeze on Jan. 20, just minutes after he was sworn in. Saturday the Office of Management and Budget came out with guidelines which, among other things, backdated the freeze to Nov. 5.
OMB brass say that persons offered jobs after Nov. 5 who are already on the payroll are probably safe. Those offered jobs after Nov. 5 who have not yet reported for work, or have been told not to report to work pending clarification of the freeze, may have a long wiat until they go on the U.S. payroll.
OMB's freeze guidelines (Bulletin 81-6, Jan. 24) spell out the scope of the freeze, which generally applies to all executive branch departments and agencies. The freeze does not cover:
The U.S. Postal Service.
Programs exempt from employment ceilings.
Written hiring commitments dated prior to Nov. 5.
Reassignment of personnel "within an agency."
Appointments to Schedule C and noncareer Senior Executive Service jobs.
Shifts of employes "from one agency to another because of a transfer of functions resulting from presidential reorganization or legislative action." o
Agencies whose "on board total employment as of Dec. 31, 1980, was less than 100. Hiring by such agencies will not exceed the number of vacancies that occur after Dec. 31, 1980."
Seasonal hiring of temporary employes.
Hiring in the president's executive office.
OMB is expected to come out with new guidelines soon that will clarify the current guidelines, spell out exemption procedures and tell what mechanism will be used to process "hardship case" appeals of workers and job-seekers caught on the wrong side of the freeze.
Also to be determined, probably in the courts, will be the legality of President Reagan making the freeze effective BEFORE he was sworn in. Federal unions and many disappointed job-seekers are talking abut lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the retroactive freeze. Meantime, the freeze is on, and nobody, except those exempt groups, is supposed to be hiring. f