Trump’s federal hiring freeze won’t kill government IT hiring

Defense and cybersecurity positions appear unaffected by the move, and contractor demands may increase

If you are planning to apply for a federal IT job, President Donald Trump's federal hiring freeze makes it harder, but not impossible, to land a position with the U.S. government.

On Monday, Trump signed an executive order preventing the filling of vacant positions or creating new jobs "except when necessary to meet national or public security responsibilities," said Trump Administration Press Secretary Sean Spicer at a briefing today.

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Defense agencies are big users of IT and appear to be unaffected by the freeze. Cybersecurity hiring is a major impetus at civilian agencies and, depending on how broadly the government defines IT jobs related to "public security," there could still be quite a bit of hiring.

Cybersecurity-related hiring was a top IT priority in the last year of President Barack Obama's administration. It follows high-profile government breaches, including some 20 million records from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Opportunities with federal IT contractors may open up as well.

"The easiest way around this is to shift work to contractors," said Roger Baker, a former assistant secretary for information and technology and CIO at the Veterans Affairs office who now works as an independent consultant. He said it will be a "pretty straightforward" for agencies to shift spending.

But the real problem for IT, said Baker, has been an "erosion of talent and morale caused by long-term salary freeze, bad press and congressional beatings."

In the federal government, promotion tends to be from within, so when a good candidate leaves -- and the government can't attract a great candidate to replace him/her because of pay or other issues -- "the person who steps up is a step lower in skill," said Baker. "Since good people find other jobs a lot faster than the poorer skilled, the trend lines are obvious."

"For areas outside of national security, there will be some slight shift to contractors -- if the agency mission is on the administration's list of priorities," said Ray Bjorklund, who heads federal market research firm BirchGrove. "Otherwise, the situation will probably remain status quo. Civilian positions that are currently unfilled will probably remain unfilled."

Bjorklund isn't expecting many new government contracts outside of national security related-work.

Federal hiring freezes have happened in the past. In 1982, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog, issued a report on hiring freezes and said that they had little effect on federal employment levels and it was unknown whether they saved the government money.

Hiring freezes "disrupted agency operations, and in some cases, increased costs to government," the GAO wrote. The workarounds included hiring part-time and temporary employees, and using contractors or overtime. The hiring freeze also led to lost revenue and uncollected debts.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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