The Federal Bureau of Prisons, whose workforce has been decimated by Trump-era hiring freezes, is advertising for thousands of new positions. After being decimated by four years of budget cuts, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is hiring dozens of lawyers. The Agriculture Department is taking steps to replace hundreds of scientists who left or were forced to leave during the previous administration.
Officials at the Justice Department are looking for civil rights attorneys, while the Energy Department is looking for senior energy efficiency and renewable energy positions that went unfilled during Donald Trump’s presidency.
According to a $1.5 trillion preliminary budget released by the White House in April, which directs billions of dollars into hiring to help curb climate change, restore enforcement of environmental and workplace laws, and expand safety net programs in housing, education, public health, and veterinary medicine, that is a fraction of the growth in the federal bureaucracy that the Biden administration would like to see.
President Biden vowed during his campaign to restore trust in a federal bureaucracy that his predecessor vilified as an unaccountable “deep state” — and with debate raging in Congress over the White House’s proposed $6 trillion in spending, that shift now includes persuading Americans to embrace bigger government.
Already, the vision is colliding with the reality that Trump achieved his goal of cleaving and disrupting the federal government in just one term.
Some critical programs on Biden’s agenda are so understaffed that his administration is unable to fully implement his policies, such as enforcement of fair-housing and workplace safety laws. A number of Trump administration decisions, such as the relocation of key economic research and land management offices, are proving difficult to reverse.
The Government Accountability Office’s annual list of troubled federal programs, released in March, is longer than ever, a shift that workforce experts attribute to vast areas of government that the Trump administration ignored. Auditors emphasized “high-risk” areas vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, or mismanagement, ranging from oversight of the federal prison system to the leadership and coordination of public health emergencies by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Then there are the delays caused by factors unrelated to Trump. Departments across the government are waiting for funds from the yet-to-be-negotiated federal budget to fill vacancies. Biden’s budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 is set to be released on May 28.
The two agencies expected to drive the rebuilding effort, the Office of Personnel Management and the White House Budget Office, are both missing top leaders, with no Senate action on Kiran Ahuja’s nomination for personnel and no nominee for the Office of Management and Budget. Neera Tanden, Biden’s first choice to lead the budget office, withdrew her name from consideration in March.
The personnel agency, whose profile the president is expected to raise following a revolving door of permanent and acting leaders under Trump, is facing major vacancies after his administration installed a slew of political appointees, who have since left, to fill roles normally reserved for career employees.
According to a Washington Post analysis of federal personnel data, despite Trump’s pledge to “cut so much your head will spin,” the largest government departments — Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security — grew during his presidency, leaving the bureaucracy 3.4 percent larger overall than when he became president. According to the data, this compares to 3.6 percent growth in President Barack Obama’s first term and 1.3 percent growth in his second.
However, this masked a drop in staffing in the majority of Cabinet agencies Biden inherited, which was caused by Trump reshaping the permanent workforce in a contraction long sought by conservatives.
Homeland Security increased by 6.9 percent, VA increased by 13%, and the Commerce Department increased by 0.2 percent, while Labor decreased by 11.8 percent, Education decreased by 5.9 percent, and State decreased by 5.5 percent.
The government cut jobs in regulation, enforcement, civil rights, worker safety, and other areas as Trump rolled back regulations and aimed for a smaller, more targeted footprint. Mine inspectors were down 22 percent from four years ago by December 2020; Internal Revenue Service officers who collect delinquent taxes were down 19.6 percent; soil scientists were down 16.3 percent; and public health educators were down 28.6 percent.