What the federal hiring freeze means for students
As one of his first acts in office, President Donald Trump on January 22 issued a memorandum to freeze federal hiring. This action halts the hiring of new federal employees, applies to executive branch agencies and aims to reduce the size of government. The freeze impacts hiring for civilian federal employees and exempts the military as well as national security and public safety positions deemed essential.
The hiring freeze is not indefinite. The presidential memo directs the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), to recommend a long-term plan in 90 days to reduce the size of government through attrition. The current hiring freeze will expire once this plan is in place, although it is possible the plan could continue a hiring freeze for certain positions until the size of the workforce is reduced.
OMB and OPM recently issued guidance for federal agencies to help clarify how the freeze should be implemented. Several agencies – such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense – also have released their own specific guidance on exemptions. Please note that there may still be uncertainty at some agencies as federal leaders determine how to apply aspects of the hiring freeze to their workforce. Here are answers to some of the top questions you may be getting from students on your campus:
- Should students continue applying for federal jobs?
- Yes! The freeze will eventually end and at that point applicants will again be considered for and offered positions. This may or may not occur in 90 days, pending the OMB/OPM plan. Many agencies may continue reviewing applications and conducting applicant assessments during the hiring freeze, although they cannot officially make offers until it ends.
- What if an application is currently under review?
- Students are encouraged to follow up with the HR contact listed on the job opportunity announcement to see where they stand in the process; however, many federal HR employees are waiting for specific agency guidance and may not be able to provide any additional information at this time.
- What if a student has a job offer on the table?
- Job offers made prior to January 22 with a start date before February 22 will be honored. Offers made prior to January 22 with start dates (confirmed or unconfirmed) after February 22 will be decided on a case-by-case basis and must be reviewed by the agency leader. Students in this situation should reach out to their federal HR point of contact for more information.
- Are certain programs exempted?
- Agency leaders can exempt positions deemed necessary to national security (including foreign relations) and public safety (including essential activities to the extent that they protect life and property). These exemptions will be decided on a case-by-case basis and students should check with agencies. Students who take unpaid internships may not be impacted by the freeze since they aren’t being brought on as full-time employees, but they should verify that with the agency. A more complete breakdown of relevant exemptions are noted in this article.
- What about the Pathways Programs? Are they still hiring?
- Pathways Internship and Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) programs are exempted from the freeze – great news for students and PMF finalists! These appointments are still provisional and conversion is not guaranteed, as noted in the OMB/OPM guidance. Pathways Recent Graduate positions are not exempted and are still subject to the hiring freeze.
- Current employees under the Pathways Programs are still eligible for conversion to full-time positions. For example, a Pathways Intern or Recent Graduate currently serving in government can still be converted while the hiring freeze is in place, since these jobs often begin with a temporary appointment that is later converted to permanent.
- I heard that national security and public safety careers aren't affected. Is that true?
- Positions related to national security and public safety may be exempted from the freeze and are determined by agency leaders. Students should check with agencies to determine if hiring still is taking place for posted national security and public safety positions. More specifically, federal civilian personnel jobs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency are exempted from the freeze, meaning they are still hiring – good news for students interested in intelligence and cyber careers!
- Some students are now questioning whether they want to go into government. What can I tell them?
- Our government hires for every skill and background imaginable – from engineers to nurses to zoologists to scientists to computer experts. There is a place in government for talented young people, and their impact serving our country can last for decades to come. Through administration changes and beyond, government will continue to need smart, strong and dedicated people to deliver important services for the American people. After a heated election season, emotions are high on both sides of the aisle, but our democracy is greater than the rhetoric and politics. Now, more than ever, is the time for millennials to join in as public servants.
For more on the Partnership’s view of the hiring freeze, check out our CEO Max Stier’s op-ed in the Washington Post. The Partnership will continue to share updates in our Call to Serve monthly e-newsletter for higher education professionals. We encourage you to subscribe at this link.