posted January 24, 2017

FEA members have a lot of questions about the hiring freeze imposed by President Donald Trump this week. FEA is seeking answers to those questions from DODEA, DOD and OPM in order to get a better idea of how the freeze will directly affect DoDEA schools and their ability to continue providing students with an outstanding education.

By blocking the hiring of any new employees, the President's plan could make it impossible for DoDEA to replace educators who retire or otherwise separate from the school system. Since the students would still remain and still require a teacher to teach them, it is not clear how DoDEA would deal with such vacancies without relying on substitutes (who are already in short supply and are not a viable long-term solution) or increasing class sizes (and thereby doing serious harm to the quality of education).

In response to inquiries, DOD has informed us it has immediately frozen hiring of civilian employees and is developing guidance on the hiring freeze. That guidance is to be shared with FEA and other unions representing civilian employees once it is ready.

The freeze does give OPM the authority to "grant exemptions from this freeze where those exemptions are otherwise necessary." Also, it allows the heads of "any executive department or agency" (presumably, that would include DoDEA) to exempt from the hiring freeze "any position that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities."

Of course, FEA feels that our DoDEA school-level employees play an important part in supporting the security of our nation by educating the children of those in the armed services who protect us. Whether the new administration shares this interpretation is unknown.

The President's hiring freeze memo goes on to specify that it "does not prohibit making reallocations to meet the highest priority needs and to ensure that essential services are not interrupted…". Whether such "reallocations" could involve, for example, eliminating some above-school-level positions in management so that new school-level personnel can be hired is another uncertainty.

The freeze memo gives the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 90 days to work with OPM on a long-term plan to reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition. The hiring freeze will expire once the OMB plan is put in place.

No specific guidelines are included in the memo for a specific number or percentage of employees to be lost to attrition, or where such losses would take place. Media reports, however, have cited a 20 percent reduction in the number of civilian as the new administration's goal.

The reasons for such reductions, however, are less clear. In statements prior to his election, Mr. Trump said cutting the size of the federal workforce was necessary to make government more "honest and effective," though there is no evidence to support such assertions.

Furthermore, the new administration's Press Secretary stated this week that the freeze and attrition plan is necessary due to a "dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years." Statistics, however, show the total number of civilian employees in federal government to be relatively flat, or even declining, over the past two decades. Furthermore, the percentage of federal workers in the nation's overall civilian workforce has been on the decline for decades, with the exception of brief spikes roughly every 10 years when temporary workers are hired to conduct the U.S. Census. The "dramatic expansion" they cite simply does not exist.

FEA will continue seeking clarification and explanation on the President's salary freeze memo and pushing for an interpretation that minimizes damage at the classroom level, where the learning actually takes place.

updated February 8, 2017
The hiring freeze on civilian positions imposed by President Trump has created a lot of questions and uncertainties, both among employees and, apparently, among management. The Pentagon issued additional guidelines on the hiring freeze in early February. Those guidelines do not list any exemptions specifically for DoDEA, but we are still hopeful DoDEA may be able to request a waiver in order to fill some of the many vacant positions throughout our schools. It is unthinkable to leave a child's education on hold for 90 days or more while this issue is worked out.