Glacier workers

Glacier National Park hires about 350 seasonal workers each year, according to its website.

MICHAEL GALLACHER, Missoulian

With hundreds of seasonal and full-time federal jobs in limbo, local employers still have little clarity on how a presidential hiring freeze should work out.

On Wednesday, the federal Office of Management and Budget sent out a memo expanding on President Donald Trump’s executive order announcing the hiring freeze, which applies to all civilian jobs not required for public safety or national security.

The OMB memorandum states, "Executive departments and agencies should not make any new offers of employment. Department and agency heads may make limited exemptions that they deem necessary to ensure national security or public safety.” It added that further details on exemptions were “forthcoming.”

“The only thing we know for sure is that a guy who applied for a Forest Service position told us the freeze was still going on,” Missoula Job Service Director Wolfgang Amichbichler said on Friday. “We’re on the federal jobs subscription list, and they still keep pumping them out. But apparently they’re not allowed to fill them.”

Amichbichler said he expected more clarity soon, because the National Park Service begins hiring its seasonal workers in Feburary and the Forest Service is in the middle of hiring its seasonal firefighting crews. The Forest Service hires more than 6,000 firefighters starting in January. Glacier National Park alone hires about 350 seasonal workers each year, according to its website.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, protested the cuts, noting that 40,000 federal Veterans Administration jobs were also hanging open at a time when Congress and the Administration claim they want to improve veterans’ services. He also objected to how Trump’s order left the seasonal workforce hanging.

“This was a reckless decision made in Washington, D.C., with no consideration of the real impacts on the ground in Montana,” Tester said in an email statement. His was the first signature on a letter to Trump with 54 other senators and representatives protesting the VA cuts.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines' office said he supported Trump’s intention to look throughout the federal budget to find ways of lowering its nearly $20 trillion federal debt.

“We know public union bosses are going to do everything they can to fight this, but Montanans know that we don’t need a larger federal government with more bureaucracy,” Daines said in an email. “We don’t need more federal employees with less accountability. The federal government must become more efficient and accountable to taxpayers. Everything should be on the table.”

Daines’ office staff said they’d been assured by Forest Service officials that jobs like wildfire crews would be exempted as necessary for public safety. And they provided a memo by Veterans Administration Acting Secretary Robert Snyder that detailed what kinds of positions the agency would exempt under the hiring freeze rules.

“Under the authority conferred to me by subject memorandum, I am exempting certain positions from the hiring freeze because they are necessary to meet Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) public safety responsibilities,” the Jan. 27 memo states. “A small number of mission critical support positions without which patient care providers cannot function, are also included.”

That includes “positions at … the National Cemetery Administration that are directly involved in the burial of Veterans and their eligible family members,” chaplains, recreation aid and assistants, pest controllers and realty specialists.

“This memorandum … should not be construed as ‘business as usual,’” Snyder wrote in conclusion. “VA will only exempt those positions from the hiring freeze that meet the intent of the Presidential Memorandum dated January 23, 2017. This is interim guidance and will be updated as we receive additional information from the Office of Personnel Management and OMB.”

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.