Federal hiring freeze: Policy made for the cameras, hurts real families

As Donald Trump quickly approaches his first 100 days in office, one fact is undeniable: The president cares deeply about the cameras. His time in office has been filled with carefully crafted photo-ops of meetings and the signing of executive orders. While implementing new policies, or pushing legislation in Congress is time-consuming and difficult, creating the visuals are easy. This is especially true with one of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE’s first actions - the federal hiring freeze. The across-the-board freeze - fulfilling a campaign promise to supposedly reshape the federal workforce into a businesslike operation - was lifted last week, having served its temporary public relations purpose.

We all support efforts to streamline government, eliminate duplicative programs, and serve as good stewards of taxpayer dollars. It is also appealing for many voters to think that the government should tighten its belt like many families have done over the last decade. It is then not surprising that Republicans, years before Trump assumed office, have repeatedly proposed similar freezes, directing the ire of the American people on a supposed bloated bureaucracy and hoping to yield billions of savings on the backs of public servants.


But contrary to Republican rhetoric - the size of the federal workforce has remained around 2 million people since the late 1960s, and the percentage of Americans employed by the federal government has fallen to 2 percent over the last 50 years.

The Government Accountability Office concluded that previous hiring freezes were simply bad policy: they increased costs and disrupted operations, and didn’t make government smaller.

While the freeze may have been short-lived it’s injurious impact was felt by many - especially our nation's veterans. Veterans, who already face chronic staffing shortages at VA medical facilities, saw the backlog of disability claims top 100,000 in the first three months of the year. Recruiting to fill the unacceptably high number of vacancies in the VA slowed as potential employees worried about job security and low morale. And since veterans and their spouses rely more on the federal government for employment opportunities, the freeze makes it that much harder for them to get meaningful jobs. This doesn’t sound like we’re “supporting our troops.”

But the problems for veterans are just a microcosm of the harm done by President Trump’s hiring freeze. The Social Security Administration has seen waiting times increase and lack enough personnel to process disability and retirement checks. With 85 percent of federal workers living and working outside Washington, many communities relying on government for good-paying family-supporting jobs have seen offers rescinded and opportunities lost. And when rural, poor and communities of color depend on efficient public services the most - they are the ones who are disproportionately hurt.

The hiring freeze may be behind us but the Trump administration’s enthusiasm for slashing the federal workforce remains unabated. This advances President Trump’s ideological crusade to ‘deconstruct the administrative state’ - but does nothing to achieve a more accountable, more effective and more efficient government.

Instead, we need a 21st century federal workforce with the skills and tools to accomplish its mission for the American people. We must strengthen and build on the merit system principles that have served as the foundation of our civil service - not weaken them.  As more federal workers near retirement, we need to promote employment opportunities for students and recent graduates, recruit skilled workers from the private sector, prioritize training and career development, and fill critical vacancies expediently. We should end our over reliance on contracting, which has undermined the delivery of quality service. And the way we can bring business-like principles to government is by pushing managers to make continuous improvements, focus on customer service and adopting common-sense workplace policies like paid parental leave.

I have the honor of representing tens of thousands of current and former federal employees. These men and women have chosen the noble path of public service, and are committed to making government work better for the American people and making a positive impact in the lives of families across our nation. And they often make personal sacrifices and perform in difficult circumstances – sequestration, shutdowns and a political system that does not appreciate or recognize the value of their work and sees them as an easy punching bag. Let’s move beyond partisanship and come together build a government that works smarter and better by investing in not gutting our workforce.

Brown represents Maryland's 4th District.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.