State Department Hiring Freeze Had Broad, Significant Impacts, OIG Found

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report this month assessing the impact of a hiring freeze within the department. The report found the freeze to have wide ranging negative impacts, particularly on the Trump administration's long term reform goals. The challenges continued after the freeze was lifted.

The hiring freeze came as a result of an executive order signed in January 2017. While the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) lifted the hiring freeze on April 12, 2017, the State Department opted to continue the freeze until May 2018.

The freeze had a significant impact on on-board staffing levels for eligible family members, which declined by 20.7 percent. The number of civil service employees also declined by 7 percent.

The OIG also critiqued the implementation of the freeze. The report noted, “The Department did not coordinate the hiring freeze with the organizational reform effort, even though Department standards call for integrating strategic goals into major reorganizations of bureaus and offices. Department officials interviewed by OIG said that hiring freeze implementation was generally not coordinated with the organizational reform effort. Instead, separate teams acting independently, with minimal communication between them, conducted the two efforts.”

The report indicates that State Department employees were largely unaware of how the freeze was meant to achieve long-term strategic objectives. As a result, the employees were unaware of the best method to enact staffing reductions to meet overall objectives. In some cases, the report found that staffing reduction actually diminished the department’s ability to achieve long term objectives on issues such as counter-terrorism and border security.

Offices and bureaus within the department expressed similar concerns, with objectives in transitioning to cloud computing and improving the efficiency of the security clearance process being delayed. Offices, bureaus, consulates, and embassies also noted that the internal communication system was inconsistent and reported confusion about which employment categories were subject to the hiring freeze.

Under the executive order and the department policy for the hiring freeze, exemptions could be provided by the secretary’s approval. However, offices, bureaus, consulates, and embassies described a process that was time consuming and frustrating.

The OIG investigation found that hiring and staffing levels were still declining after the freeze had been lifted. The department’s Human Resource division predicted it would take roughly two years to fill vacant positions within the department following the freeze.

According to the report, 96 percent of embassies and consulates (139 of 145) and 95 percent of bureaus and offices (35 of 37) that responded to OIG’s surveys reported that the freeze had a somewhat negative or very negative effect on overall operations.

This report comes amidst the Social Security Administration implementing a new hiring freeze last week, which union officials have voiced concerns over.

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