Posted: 4:17 pm ET
Via the Daily Press Briefing | April 13, 2017:
QUESTION: There is an internal memo that went around as well as something that was updated online that even though the OMB lifted the hiring freeze, the federal hiring freeze, that the Secretary Tillerson, that the State Department was going to maintain its hiring freeze. Do you know what led to that decision?
MR TONER: Sure. So OMB —
QUESTION: And what is it about?
MR TONER: Okay. So the OMB on Wednesday announced the lifting of the hiring freeze, as you noted, and provided also extensive further guidance to all the various federal agencies on the implementation of and requirements pursuant to the OMB memorandum which is called, I think, Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce, which is a mouthful. I apologize.
MR TONER: And this document, this memo, provides guidance on new requirements on the presidential memorandum that was initially issued on January 23rd.
MR TONER: This was the one that issued the hiring freeze, as well as the executive order issued on March 13th that required a comprehensive plan to reorganize all the executive branch departments and agencies.
So as part of that process, the department and this Secretary are going to be undertaking a reorganization later in the year, and the decision was taken that the hiring freeze will continue until that plan is fully developed and agreement is reached on its implementation.
And this is just part of prudent planning. We can’t be onboarding people when we don’t know what our reorganization is ultimately going to look at – look like. But until then – and this is an important point – the Secretary does retain authority to waive the ruling – or the hiring freeze and will do so in instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission and responsibilities require. So he does —
QUESTION: So it doesn’t break any federal law that he’s done this?
MR TONER: It does not. It’s his decision to maintain this hiring freeze.
QUESTION: Even though that – even though the Congress has – the appropriations has approved money for it, or even if the Congress has said that that’s fine to lift it. So there is a law, a federal law, that if appropriations has moved on some kind of spending or whatever —
MR TONER: Right.
QUESTION: — and he says, “No, I’m not going to touch that,” isn’t that against a law?
MR TONER: My understanding is that he has the jurisdiction to – basically to keep this freeze in place as we go about this presidentially mandated reorganization.
QUESTION: Are we talking about Civil and Foreign Service officers, political appointees? What —
MR TONER: Across the board.
QUESTION: So he’s – wait a minute. So he’s not going to hire any political appointees —
MR TONER: I —
QUESTION: — before the reorg?
MR TONER: I believe it’s a hiring freeze across the board. I don’t know about political appointees. I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: Could you check on that? So what are you – yeah, I mean —
MR TONER: I can check on that.
QUESTION: That would – essentially, if that’s true, what you’re saying, that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, that you would not be hiring any assistant secretaries —
MR TONER: I will check on political appointments. I’m not sure about political appointments.
QUESTION: — under secretaries, a deputy secretary of state.
MR TONER: Yeah, I’m not sure about political appointments.
QUESTION: That can’t be right.
MR TONER: Yeah, I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: So effectively he’s put this on, the freeze, until he’s done the reorganization. Have those plans actually started? And how are they going to be fleshed out? Does —
MR TONER: I believe they have started. As to how they’re going to be fleshed out, I don’t have any more details.
QUESTION: I mean, it’s going to go on for the rest of the year?
MR TONER: I don’t know if there’s a time, date. I don’t have any kind of timeframe for you. If I get one, I’ll let you know.
QUESTION: And I gather that he would have got White House or congressional approval for this?
MR TONER: Yes, I would imagine he would.
QUESTION: I just want to point out something that —
MR TONER: On the political appointees, though, it’s a good question.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, because I mean Foreign Minister Lavrov even said yesterday that – I mean, we can consider the source, but other diplomats from other —
MR TONER: No, I’m not responding, I’m just —
QUESTION: I understand, but other diplomats from other countries have also said that the lack of staff at the State Department has become an impediment to having interlocutors to deal with, whether it’s long-term foreign policy cooperation, short-term foreign policy crises. So I mean, I would really like some clarification on that. Because if you’re saying that there’s a hiring freeze across the board, I really would say that suggests that that will continue to be a problem.
MR TONER: It’s a fair question.
QUESTION: Related to this, though, Mark, you said that he has the – he retains authority to waive it, right?
MR TONER: Yeah, authority. Thank you. Yes, he does. Yeah. In instances where national security interests and the department’s core mission —
QUESTION: Has he?
MR TONER: — responsibilities – I would assume that political appointees in high positions would fall under the department’s core mission responsibilities.
QUESTION: Do you think that would apply to the – do you think that would apply to the newly nominated deputy? You think he’d get away with it?
MR TONER: I would think that would apply.