Civil service upset over hiring freeze

WASHINGTON • A hiring freeze. Curbs on communications. Denunciations of "waste, fraud and abuse". United States officials are alarmed by the launch of President Donald Trump's drive to rein in the federal bureaucracy.

On Monday, Mr Trump signed an executive order instituting an immediate 90-day freeze on the hiring of federal officials "except for the military". Positions now vacant will remain unfilled until the administration starts a promised programme to reduce the federal workforce.

This may affect tens of thousands of additional jobs filled by employees who step down over the next three months - a significant impact on a civil service of some 2.1 million people that has remained more or less constant over the past eight years.

Mr Trump's directive caused consternation in Washington, sparking a flood of online comments alternating between anger and incomprehension.

"It is really dumb," said Mr Tim Kaine, Mrs Hillary Clinton's running mate in the presidential election. "If you read the executive order, you would think, wow, the federal workforce has run wild!" he told Agence France-Presse.

But he added: "It has not grown at all during the Obama administration. The federal workforce today is the smallest it has been as a percentage of the non-farm workforce in 70 years." The United States employed 2.2 million civil servants in 1946, when its population was 141 million.

Besides targeting the number of officials, Mr Trump is also aiming for their compensation. The White House calls the cost of providing health and retirement benefits "unsustainable."

Austerity measures pushed by congressional Republicans since 2010 have already affected the federal workforce. The number of tax officials since then, for example, has fallen from 92,000 to 80,000, a figure that concerns the incoming treasury secretary, as reduced enforcement will mean lower federal revenues.

Meanwhile,a handful of senior US diplomats are resigning their posts during Mr Trump's first week, creating more high-level openings that he must fill, reported the Associated Press.

State Department Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, a career foreign service officer, planned to retire effective today, the State Department said. He was joined by two assistant secretaries.

Mr Trump has also moved to enact a raft of measures, including a moratorium on new regulations and a requirement for news releases, tweets and other communications to be vetted by his administration.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Civil service upset over hiring freeze'. Print Edition | Subscribe