The State Department’s 16-month-long hiring freeze had broad and negative impacts on the agency, including its ability to ensure the safety and wellbeing of personnel domestically and abroad, according to a report from the department’s watchdog.
According to the Office of Inspector General’s report released Friday, 96% of embassies and consulates and 95% of domestic bureaus and offices who responded to OIG’s surveys said the hiring freeze “had a somewhat negative or very negative effect on overall operations.” Some 97% of embassies and consulates and 100% of bureaus and offices told OIG that the freeze negatively impacted employee morale and welfare.
President Donald Trump instituted the hiring freeze upon taking office in January 2017. The Office of Management and Budget lifted the freeze in mid-April of that year, but the State Department continued the freeze for another 13 months under the tenure of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Mike Pompeo resumed hiring in May 2018, after becoming secretary of state.
The OIG report, which was ordered by Congress and based on responses from 38 bureaus and offices and 151 overseas posts, found that “several bureaus charged with protecting security, health, and life safety reported to OIG that the hiring freeze had significant detrimental effects on their operations.”
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), for example, reported a number of adverse repercussions as a result of the freeze. Among those were the inability to staff its command center – which “operates 24 hours a day to monitor and report information regarding threats against US diplomatic missions, the Secretary, and American citizens abroad” – at the recommended levels.
“DS said that even staffing the center with the minimum staff needed to operate contributed to employee burnout and fatigue and led to coverage gaps that could have significantly affected its ability to respond to overseas security crises,” the report said.
The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations said “it conducted 22% fewer overseas safety, health, and environmental management inspections in 2018 than in 2016” due to the freeze. Americans seeking consular services abroad faced longer wait times during the freeze, the report found.
Impacts on counterterrorism, law enforcement
Domestically, the Bureau of Medical Services told OIG that “staffing shortages during the hiring freeze affected its ability to provide support services for special needs children of overseas employees, process employee medical clearances, and advise on suitability reviews in cases involving mental health issues, including suitability determinations for law enforcement officers authorized to carry weapons.”
The report found that the freeze negatively impacted oversight and management of millions of dollars in foreign assistance programs, including ones related to counterterorrism, global health, narcotics and law enforcement and humanitarian aid.
The inspector general’s report could not determine the costs of the hiring freeze “because the Department did not systematically track these costs.” The report noted anecdotal accounts of increased overtime and travel costs as a result of the freeze.