Congressman Gerry Connolly Enewsletter

Hiring freeze: A mindless way to manage
By Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.)

Contrary to "alternative facts" being spread throughout Congress, our federal workforce accomplishes heroic feats on a daily basis.

For example, thanks to Dr. Burke Healey and his colleagues at the Department of Agriculture, last year our country avoided a potentially catastrophic avian influenza outbreak that could have threatened the health of 1.8 million Americans. And due to the foresight and advanced planning of Amy Merten and her team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, when the Deepwater Horizon rig blew out in 2010, first responders and the public had unprecedented access to state-of-the-art data, weather, and mapping technology, and were able to take immediate action and mitigate some of the worst environmental and economic consequences.

Those are just two of the countless stories I could share about the noble service of our federal workers. President Trump’s hiring freeze this week, coupled with other Republican assaults on federal employee pay and benefits, will jeopardize the ability to replicate them when we need them most.

It sounds good, but an across-the-board federal hiring freeze is a mindless way to manage. And a cop-out. For starters it fails to take into account our need to beef up certain capabilities in the federal government like cybersecurity, cutting backlogs at the Veterans Administration, and improving border security. It also lacks any flexibility to react quickly and adapt to the future challenges we cannot anticipate today. Why tie ourselves in that straightjacket?

We’ve seen this meat-ax approach to government before. Sequestration. We were told it would be the Sword of Damocles that would force Republicans and Democrats to compromise. It would never happen. Instead, it became reality and, as a result, fiscal budgets moving forward have been transformed into a Gordian Knot.

The challenges facing our federal government demand a better, more thoughtful approach. We need to go into the federal government and make tough decisions with a scalpel, not a meat-ax.

Bashing the federal workforce may play well with the Republican base but it doesn’t make good public policy. It might surprise some of my colleagues that 85 percent of the federal workforce actually live outside the beltway. These federal employees serve all of our constituents, whether it's processing veterans’ benefits, Medicare and Social Security claims, running our national parks, or ensuring healthy air and clean water. They deserve our respect, and our support.

With nearly forty percent of the federal workforce eligible to retire in the next decade, we face a recruitment crisis over the next five years. That's why we should be making federal service attractive to the next generation. This Executive Order and other anti-federal workforce policies being proposed in Congress will do just the opposite.

Instead of demagogic and demoralizing attacks on our federal workforce, why don’t we reinvest in a 21st-century civil service? One that hires the next NIH researcher who discovers a breakthrough in a new antibiotic, or the engineer who creates the next generation of body armor for our servicemen and women. For a Party that claims the government should run like a business, this is a mindless approach, one no Fortune 500 company would adopt.

Rep. Connolly represents Virginia’s 11th District and serves on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee


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