Trump Hiring Freeze Hamstrings His Own Agenda
Washington, DC — The new hiring freeze announced by President Trump undercuts key promises made by his nominees and his plan to “Make America Great Again,” according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The sweeping edict will impede increasing energy production from federal lands, among other Trump goals, and will fall especially hard on land management agencies.
The Trump “America First Energy Plan” revolves around tapping “the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands.” Yet, the agency central to this expansion, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), cannot keep pace with its current permit responsibilities, say two-thirds of BLM staff and 84% of managers responding to a new PEER survey.
His energy plan also promises that “our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority.” Yet in the PEER survey, 94% of national wildlife refuge managers say that they presently do not have enough staff to “meet the core conservation mission” of these irreplaceable nature preserves.
The freeze order also makes no exception for seasonal or term hires on which land management agencies such as the National Park Service depend. Nor is it clear that hiring of seasonal firefighters qualify for its undefined “public safety” exception. The freeze would remain in effect through late March and may extend even further if a plan for “long-term” reduction of the federal workforce is not implemented.
Similarly, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Interior, U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), stated in his confirmation hearing that one of his very top priorities would be “to ensure the professionals on the front line, our rangers and field managers, have the right tools [and] right resources” to do their jobs. However, the new PEER surveys clearly show that these tools and resources are decidedly lacking.
“This freeze means that the thin green line protecting America’s natural resources will get thinner and, in some places, it will snap,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, questioning how protection of natural and cultural resources can be accomplished given Trump pledges not to sell off federal lands. “Contrary to what some think, over the past decade staffing in these agencies has been shrinking even as their workload has been growing.”
PEER surveys went out to every national wildlife refuge manager in the country and to BLM managers, range, fire and scientific staff in 9 Western states. Staff shortages were a consensus concern in both:
- Nearly 9 out of 10 refuge managers registered that their refuges already had staffing levels so low that their refuges fell below “core requirements” by more than 25%; and
- Both refuge and BLM staff agreed that a hiring freeze would be devastating and, as one BLM staff-person pointed out, would make it impossible if Trump officials “also want to increase resource extraction.”
“Many voted for Trump in hopes he would bring business acumen to this very big job,” added Ruch, noting that past hiring freezes have not saved money, have forfeited collectible revenues and have been needlessly disruptive. “Public servants are left to struggle with this question: ‘How can America be great if its government is not?’”