Federal agencies in Alaska on stand-by, with hundreds of open positions

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A week after President Trump ordered a wide-ranging federal hiring freeze, agencies in Alaska are still waiting without a clear directive on how to fill hundreds of open positions.

The uncertainty has the Alaska Department of Labor changing the state’s 2017 economic outlook for the worse.

“When we forecasted 2017 originally, we thought federal employment would continue to grow,” said economist Neal Fried. “Then we heard about the potential freeze and actually kept it level with last year's levels.”

Fried said the stagnant forecast projects federal positions to remain around 15,000 jobs statewide, despite multiple agencies poised and ready to bring on new employees.

The National Park Service said it’s prepared to begin hiring 500 seasonal employees from the Southeast to the Arctic, but until the president’s freeze is lifted, the jobs will sit unfilled.

“We started advertising those jobs in the fall and winter, and are typically making selections and hiring decisions now,” said spokesperson for NPS Anchorage John Quinley. “Because of the hiring freeze, we are not allowed to make an employment offer.”

Seasonal wildfire hires are also affected by the change in federal employment policy.

The Bureau of Land Management said last week, at least 20 firefighting positions in process of being filled were put on hold.

“For Alaska Fire Service, this is the time of year where we are hiring our new temporary and some of new seasonal positions for both fire line positions and support positions,” said BLM Alaska Fire Service manager Kent Slaughter. “Out of the about 400 staff for the BLM Alaska Fire Service about 325 of those are either temporary or career seasonal.”

Slaughter said, they managed to rehire a number of employees from last year before the freeze went into effect. He said BLM officials in the nation’s capitol are working with the Office of Management and Budget to allow for the additional public safety positions begin training.

At the Alaska Veteran's Affairs Health Care System, officials promised the level of veteran’s treatment will not be affected by the president’s directive.

“We recently received an exemption list,” said public affairs officer Samuel G. Hudson. “We have over 90 positions that are direct patient care that are exempt from the hiring freeze.

According to Hudson, their agency can still hire doctors, physicians, psychologists and many other medical staff, but new ancillary staff will not be considered.

“There are some positions that the hiring freeze will affect,” said Hudson. “For instance in my department in the public affairs, there was some people that I was going to hire in the volunteer services. That is temporarily on the hiring freeze.”

With plenty of people looking for work in Alaska, some are wondering when hiring will resume as normal. It’s a question only the Trump administration can answer.

“We're waiting on more direction out of Washington,” said Slaughter.

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