President Donald Trump this week signed an executive order freezing hiring at many federal agencies, with the exception of military and public safety employees. So how might that effect the U.S. Department of Education’s work?
For one thing, it could mean longer hours for some of the department’s career staff and slower responses to department inquiries, said Zollie Stevenson, who served as a career staffer in the department under three presidents, including as the director of student achievement and school accountability programs.
“Existing staff in departments often have more work to do and often have to work longer,” said Stevenson, who is now the acting vice president for academic affairs at Philander Smith College, in Little Rock, Ark. “Sometimes the timeline for response to inquiries and program requests can slow down during hiring freezes in areas with lots of customers.”
But generally speaking, Stevenson said, if there aren’t many vacancies, the freeze shouldn’t have a major impact on the agency’s work.
Tom Corwin, who spent decades as a top career employee on K-12 budget issues and is now a senior advisor at Penn Hill Group, a government relations firm, said that the hiring freeze might mean that staff will be shifted around to help review state’s accountability plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act, which are due into the department beginning on April 3. But Corwin said that additional manpower might have been needed anyway.
Right now, the department’s vacancies include an education program specialist to work on postsecondary programs, a supervisory management analyst, an education researcher, a statistician and more, according to the federal hiring website.
And it’s important to note that the freeze only applies to the 4,000 or so career positions at the department, not to the roughly 150 political appointees the Trump team will bring in.
Several agencies have begun restricting communications during the transition, leading to worries that agencies might not release information that contradicts Trump’s agenda, according to the Washington Post. But as of Tuesday night, the Education Department’s Twitter feed was still producing content, although at a slower pace than usual.
It included tweets on issues like diversity, college access, and teacher loan forgiveness.
For instance, on Tuesday night, the department’s feed promoted literacy, showcasing a picture of children’s books, including one Spanish language title.
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” ~ Joseph Addison pic.twitter.com/JPBrB9pJpN
— US Dept of Education (@usedgov) January 24, 2017
And on Monday, the department sent a tweet about diversity in schools, a priority of former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.
We must strive to create school communities that have diverse faculties & reflect in their student bodies a commitment to diversity. pic.twitter.com/4l2HAwsRQi
— US Dept of Education (@usedgov) January 23, 2017
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