Trump's hiring freeze breaks faith with America's veterans
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One of Donald Trump’s first actions as president was to impose a hiring freeze for the federal government. The Trump administration is justifying this action by falsely claiming that it responds to a “dramatic expansion of the federal workforce.” But the truth is that the hiring freeze will have profound negative consequences throughout the country. This is particularly true for our nation’s veterans, who are among the groups most harmed by this policy.

Put simply, President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE’s hiring freeze will prevent many veterans from getting jobs. At the same time, it will cause longer waits for VAmedical care, and increase the backlog on VA disability claims. President Trump said he was “going to take care of our vets better than anybody,” but his hiring freeze makes clear that this was only an empty promise, making him another politician repeating a hollow slogan like “support the troops” while doing exactly the opposite.

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Because veterans receive a strong hiring preference for federal jobs, many of the people shut out of job openings due to the federal hiring freeze will be veterans. In fiscal year 2015, the federal government hired more than 71,800 veterans, including roughly 31,600 disabled veterans. These veterans represented 32.5 percent—nearly one-third—of all newly hired federal employees.

 

Last month alone, there were roughly 189,000 unemployed veterans who served their country after Sept. 11, 2001. This translates to an unemployment rate of 5.7 percent, a percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.

At a time when we should be helping veterans find gainful employment in the workforce, President Trump’s hiring freeze will only make finding jobs harder. And it’s not just veterans living in and around Washington, D.C.—85 percent of federal workers are outside the D.C. area, meaning this freeze will impact communities across the nation.

This freeze also means that veterans will likely see worse service from the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA medical facilities are already short-staffed, and President Trump’s hiring freeze will only make things worse. The Veterans Health Administration is seeking to fill thousands of vacant positions. Even if some of these vacancies are exempt from the hiring freeze due to public safety, staff shortages elsewhere are likely to create bottlenecks that prevent veterans from receiving timely medical care.

Furthermore, the hiring freeze is also likely to increase the backlog of VA disability claims, meaning veterans will have to wait longer to receive compensation for disabilities connected to their service. Currently, the VA is seeking to hire 300 new claims processors to reduce the disability claims backlog—a backlog that notably has declined from more than 536,400 in 2012 to less than 71,400 in 2015. President Trump’s hiring freeze will halt, if not reverse, this progress. And although VA employees are currently working overtime to process disability claims, this is neither sustainable nor cost-effective.

Past experience already tells us that federal hiring freezes are a bad idea. The Government Accountability Office studied earlier hiring freezes in 1982—back when it was still called the General Accounting Office—and found that such freezes disrupt government services without saving money. The scathing report concluded that hiring freezes “provided an illusion of control on federal employment and spending.” Far from representing new leadership, President Trump is simply using an old idea that was discredited over 30 years ago.

Contrary to the Trump administration’s false claims, the number of federal civilian employees has not changed much in recent years. The federal workforce is smaller now than it was under President Reagan. Since the country has grown much faster than the federal workforce, the percentage of workers employed by the federal government has been on a steady decline since the 1950s. At the same time, the federal government is outsourcing more work to contractors, who often charge the government more than it would cost to pay a federal employee to do the same work.

The problems for veterans under President Trump’s hiring freeze are just a microcosm of the total damage that will be done by this executive order. Americans can expect longer waits to address Social Security issues, just as veterans can expect longer waits for disability claims. The IRS will struggle to process tax returns in a timely manner, respond to taxpayer questions, and prevent identity theft and cyberattacks. Federal supervision will be diminished for the financial system and the environment, jeopardizing the health and economic security of the American people without saving any money.

America’s veterans—and all Americans—deserve better from their president.

Harry Stein is director of fiscal policy at the Center for American Progress.


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