Gov. Greg Abbott's hiring freeze leaves some Texas state agencies wondering what's next

In his State of the State address Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott took immediate action to cut down state spending and, at the same time, hiring.

Abbott announced a hiring freeze across almost all Texas agencies, to last until August, claiming the move could save the state around $200 million, money that would presumably be directed towards other budgetary priorities.

The order, relayed by Abbott's budget director, Steven Albright, also prohibits agencies from posting any new jobs. Some government entities are excluded, however.

The freeze only applies to agencies and higher education institutions under Abbott's purview, not those of other statewide elected officials, like the Attorney General's Office or the Railroad Commission of Texas.

Abbott's order exempts openings that are essential to public safety. The governor directed agencies to not use savings from this hiring freeze for other purposes.

At the time of the order, thousands of jobs were posted on the state's employment website, resulting in many agencies with unanswered questions as to how best to operate without full staffing power.

One agency with 100-plus openings is still assessing what to do next, days after the freeze was ordered.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Press Office Manager Steve Lightfoot said his agency will comply with Abbott's freeze but is still assessing how it will affect operations until August.

"We are still trying to determine what impacts this will have," he said. "But I can assure you that we will be complying with the governor's directive."

The freeze has a special impact on Parks and Wildlife because it is primarily a field-based agency, Lightfoot said, with many employees directly affecting operations on the ground.

Lightfoot said the agency has had to deal with self-imposed hiring "chills" in the past. He said because of natural attrition and retirement, the agency by August will likely have more vacancies emerge in addition to the 120 positions already open.

In August, Lightfoot said the agency will not hire all vacant positions at once due to human resource constraints. He said throughout the freeze the agency will still be recruiting and interviewing applicants but will not be hiring any new ones.

Although Abbott's order allows some positions essential to public safety to be exempted from the freeze on a case-by-case basis, Lightfoot said he is unsure if his department will be applying for waivers.

"We are not at the point yet to make those calls," Lightfoot said.

The Texas Workforce Commission faces a similar position as Parks and Wildlife, with 108 Austin-based positions in flux. TWC Director of Communications Lisa Givens said these positions entail a variety of roles including administrative, program specialist and managerial.

"While it is too soon to know what the impact will be on recruiting once the freeze is lifted, TWC remains focused on ensuring that we maintain quality services," she said.

When contacted, other state agencies said they were still working to assess the impact the freeze would have on their operations.