VA leader exempts many jobs from federal hiring freeze


By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 27, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs will exempt many health care and other positions from a temporary federal hiring freeze, according to a memorandum issued Friday by acting VA Secretary Robert Snyder.

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that federal agencies cannot fill open positions or create new ones for 90 days, until the Office of Management and Budget can devise a long-term plan to cut the federal workforce through attrition.

The presidential memo states there could be exemptions for jobs necessary for national security or public safety, and Snyder announced Tuesday that he intended to exempt some positions.

Those positions were not clear until Friday, when Snyder released a list of exempt jobs.

The VA has about 2,300 openings posted on a federal website. The office of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the agency has 45,000 vacancies.

It’s uncertain how many of the vacancies will be exempt under Snyder’s memo, but the list of positions is wide-ranging, from various health care positions to those working on major construction projects and in the National Cemetery Administration. Other positions include housekeeping, pest control and food service employees.

“I am exempting certain positions from the hiring freeze because they are necessary to meet [VA] public safety responsibilities,” Snyder wrote in the memo.

The VA is preparing to open facilities in 23 cities. Included in the exemptions are the minimum staff necessary to run those facilities, Snyder wrote.

He said the cemetery workers exempted from the hiring freeze are those “directly involved with the burial of veterans and their eligible family members.”

Snyder called his list of exemptions “guidance” and said it could change if the VA received more information on the hiring freeze from the Office of Personnel Management or Office of Management and Budget.

The list of exempted jobs was released after lawmakers and veterans groups spoke out against the hiring freeze at the VA.

On Wednesday, more than 50 Democrats sent a letter to Trump, asking that he exempt the VA from the hiring freeze. They also urged him to exempt veterans seeking jobs in any federal department.

Republican chairmen of the House and Senate veterans affairs’ committees followed up Thursday with their own letter, asking Trump to exempt patient care providers.

Large veterans organizations – including American Veterans, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans – have also spoken out against the hiring freeze at the VA and for job-seeking veterans.

Twitter: @nikkiwentling