Lawmakers ask Sessions to exempt federal prisons from hiring freeze

Lawmakers ask Sessions to exempt federal prisons from hiring freeze
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers are pushing the Department of Justice to exempt the Bureau of Prisons from the federal hiring freeze President Trump initiated shortly after he took office.

In a letter Monday, Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire MORE (D-Ill.) and Reps. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosRep. Steve Watkins loses Kansas primary after voter fraud charges Democrats go big on diversity with new House recruits DCCC adds six candidates to program aimed at flipping GOP-held seats MORE (D-Ill.) and David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyEnergy secretary says pipeline setbacks pose national security issue MLB, Congress play hardball in fight over minor leagues Koch campaign touts bipartisan group behind ag labor immigration bill MORE (R-W.Va.) told Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign MORE the freeze puts prison security officers and communities at risk.

Citing agency guidance implementing the order, the lawmakers claim the Justice Department fully exempted the FBI from the hiring freeze but only issued a limited exemption for the Bureau of Prisons.

Under the guidance, the Bureau of Prisons is barred from increasing staff above the level that existed on Jan. 22, meaning any vacant positions that had not been filled by Jan. 22 cannot be filled now.

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The guidance allows post-Jan. 22 vacancies to be filled externally through a limited public safety exception. But the lawmakers added that even those hires are not allowed until the Office of Personnel Management first provides data on Jan. 22 staffing levels.

To the best of their knowledge, Durbin, Bustos and McKinley claim that has not yet happened, so all hiring is effectively blocked.

“Corrections staff at BOP institutions are responsible for ensuring the safety and security of these inmates, as well as the safety and security of their fellow staff members and the general public,” they said in their letter.  

“The hiring freeze jeopardizes their ability to fulfill their duty in an already difficult and sometimes dangerous setting.”

Due to retirements that occurred in 2016, the lawmakers claim a number of facilities are short staffed and asked Sessions to immediately amend the agency guidance and fully exempt the Bureau of Prisons from the hiring freeze.

"In conversations with corrections staff, we have heard repeatedly that the hiring freeze 'hurts tremendously' and 'inhibits [them] from maintaining the safety and security' of our Federal corrections institution," they wrote. "This is unacceptable."