The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump links federal hiring freeze to fighting corruption

Interpretive park ranger Caitlin Kostic gives Donald Trump a tour near the high-water mark of the Confederacy at Gettysburg National Military Park on Oct. 22, 2016, in Gettysburg, Pa. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

The notion of a Donald Trump Gettysburg address might make Abe Lincoln roll over, but the Republican presidential nominee’s speech near the Civil War cemetery is one that could have a significant effect on federal employees and the taxpayers they serve.

Saturday’s speech was a serious one, although Trump overshadowed his proposed first 100-day “Contract With the American Voter” by first threatening to sue “liars,” the many women accusing him of sexual misconduct.

A federal hiring freeze is a top item in Trump’s contract, and his call is revealing. It is the second of 28 points, but it is not listed as a budget savings strategy. Instead, it is among the first six points that are designed “to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, D.C.” Trump apparently thinks that “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health),” as the contract says, will help stop fraud.

What does that say about his views on the Civil Service, federal employees and those who hope to be? A Trump campaign statement said the workforce has “many great and committed people” and “in the long term, a smaller federal workforce will mean a more honest and effective government, in which it is harder to hide corruption.”

No details were provided about what Trump thinks is the appropriate level of the workforce or how long he thinks a freeze would last.

Republicans in Congress have long called for reducing the workforce through attrition and a number of agencies have imposed hiring freezes because of budget hits. The Republican fiscal 2012 budget proposal, prepared by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), when he was Budget Committee chairman, called for a 10 percent cut.

“It reduces the public-sector bureaucracy, not through layoffs, but via a gradual, sensible attrition policy, permitting the federal government to hire only one new employee for every three federal workers who retire,” according to “Path to Prosperity,” the GOP’s 2012 budget resolution. It projected that the attrition would save $49 billion over 10 years.

Trump’s campaign statement did not provide an estimated saving, but said “a smaller federal workforce will save money, be more accountable, and be forced to become more efficient and responsive, especially at departments like the Veterans Administration.”

Federal employees didn’t like Ryan’s proposal and Trump’s won’t fare any better among them. Frustrated customers of agencies that did cut services, like the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security, also would be hit by a freeze.

“Trump’s proposal to impose a broad, ill-defined hiring freeze is more evidence that he is unprepared and unfit to be the next president of the United States.,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union. “He has no clue how critical public servants are to caring for our veterans, protecting our communities, ensuring hard-earned benefits are delivered, supporting our Armed Forces, and much more.”

Those workers are serving more taxpayers than ever.

The federal workforce has about 2.1 million civilians, 85 percent of whom work outside the Washington area. Compared to growth in the nation’s population, the workforce “has declined dramatically over the past several decades, with occasional upticks due, for example, to military conflicts and the administration of the Census,” according to the Obama administration’s fiscal 2017 budget documents. “Since the 1960s, the U.S. population increased by 67 percent, the private sector workforce increased by 136 percent, and State and local government workforces (excluding education workers) increased by 127 percent, while the size of the Federal workforce rose about 10 percent.”

Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service which studies federal management and workforce issues, noted similar data and said “a hiring freeze isn’t the way to get better results…A better approach would be to provide improved leadership from both Congress and the Executive Branch to the existing workforce and modernize the rules that govern hiring, firing and managing public servants.”

If there is a freeze, Dan G. Blair, the president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration said it “should have built in flexibility” so critical positions can be filled. Blair was acting director of the Office of Personnel Management under former president George W. Bush.

Trump’s call for a hiring freeze didn’t get into nuances like the federal workforce size falling well behind population growth or critical positions. For Cox, Trump’s plan is another indication of how government workers would fare under him.

“He has a record of disrespecting, demeaning and failing his employees,” Cox said, adding that “there’s no doubt he would continue those habits as the leader of the Executive Branch.”

Read more:

[Van Hollen: Ryan plans ‘very hostile to federal employees’]

[Two federal unions cling to Trump, despite everything]

[Christie on Trump’s plan to fire feds faster and clean out Obama’s people]