Sunday, February 12, 2017
Wonderful System--Government Employees Able To Stifle Trump's Plans
President Donald Trump is confronting a federal workforce hostile to his administration's policies. (Photo: Michael Reynolds//EPA/Newscom)
Recent scandals in the Department of Veterans Affairs and
the Internal Revenue Service demonstrated that it’s almost
impossible to fire federal employees, many of whom reportedly intend to go rogue by not implementing
President Donald Trump’s agenda.
“It’s hard to argue we have an accountable government when someone can’t be fired for years at a time,” @bgwilterdink says.
Conservatives are hopeful the time has come for civil
service reform that would rein in this permanent class
of government workers who have voiced outright
hostility to the new administration. Some have even
called it the “fourth branch of government” or “alt- government.”
“This is a situation where people voted and elected
a president who is lawfully trying to complete those
tasks [he promised in the campaign], while unelected
bureaucrats are willing to overturn the will of the
people,” Ben Wilterdink, director of the American
Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Task
Force on Commerce, Insurance and Economic
Development, told The Daily Signal.
Among federal employees, about 95 percent of political
contributions went to Democrat Hillary Clinton during
the presidential race, according to an analysis by The Hill.
Some of those federal workers are now in consultation
with departed Obama administration officials to
determine how they can push back against the
Trump administration’s agenda, The Washington Post
reported last week.
At the State Department, for example, nearly 1,000
government workers signed a letter protesting
Trump’s executive order on refugees. A few days
later, Trump had to fire acting Attorney General Sally
Yates after she announced she wouldn’t defend the
administration’s refugee policy.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said State
Department employees who oppose the policy
“should either get with the program, or they can go.”
“If a federal employee doesn’t like the ideological
foundation or likely outcomes of a presidential
directive, it doesn’t mean that the directive is not
legal. It means that the views of the federal employee
are in conflict with the views of the president who
runs the federal government,” said Neil Siefring,
vice president of Hilltop Advocacy and a former
Republican House staffer, in a column for The Daily Caller.
“In that instance,” Siefring added, “the solution
should not be to resist the actions of the president
in their professional capacity as a career civil
servant in the workplace. The solution is for that
federal employee to honorably resign, not
actively or passively hamper the White House.”
What if an employee won’t resign? Addressing
the problem with the federal workforce won’t be
easy, according to experts interviewed by The
“You can fire federal employees, it’s just that nobody
wants to put up with the process,” Don Devine,
former director of the Office of Personnel Management
during the Reagan administration, told The Daily Signal.
Multiple appeals can be made through the U.S.
Merit Systems Protection Board, the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),
and the National Labor Relations Board.
“It’s almost impossible to discipline employees
because it can be appealed to through the merit
system, the labor relations systems, or through the
EEOC,” Devine said. “We don’t have a civil service
system; we have a dual civil service-labor relations
During the Obama administration, two of its biggest
scandals involved the IRS and Department of
Veterans Affairs. In 2013, a Treasury Department
inspector general report determined the IRS had
been targeting conservative groups. In 2014, a VA
inspector general’s report revealed falsified
appointments in which some veterans died while
waiting for care.
Years later, conservatives remain frustrated that
federal workers weren’t held accountable.
“I will take your IRS employees and raise you the EPA,
where story after story, a worker was viewing porn on
work time and couldn’t be fired because the process
is fraught with appeals,” Wilterdink said. “It’s hard to
argue we have an accountable government when
someone can’t be fired for years at a time.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. House revived the Holman
Rule, named after a Democrat congressman who
introduced it in 1876. It would allow lawmakers to
cut the pay of individual federal workers or a
There are other proposals for holding federal workers
accountable. House Oversight and Government
Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a bill in January to hold seriously tax
delinquent people ineligible for federal civilian
employment, federal contracts, or government
grants. This bill was proposed in response to IRS
data that found more than 100,000 federal civilian
employees owed more than $1 billion in unpaid
taxes at the end of fiscal year 2015.
Adding to the challenge is the process commonly
known as burrowing. Frequently, political appointees
from one administration convert to a career position
that comes with civil service protections, allowing
them to continue implementing policy—or resisting
the new administration’s approach.
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883
was passed to stop raw political party appointments
from securing federal government jobs, or a spoils
system. The law introduced the merit system into
hiring practices and made numerous civil service
positions untouchable after they were filled.
However, burrowing has caused a de facto spoils
system, Wilterdink said, because, “the pendulum
has swung so far to protecting federal employees”
that it allows administrations to keep their people
in office long term.
Significant reform doesn’t mean recreating a spoils
system, according to Robert Moffit, a senior fellow
at The Heritage Foundation who was an assistant
Office of Personnel Management director during
the Reagan administration. Moffit said a balanced
approach would be more desirable.
“You need to have strong managers in each agency
to make sure the president’s agenda is properly
executed,” Moffit told The Daily Signal. “You must
also have a bright line between career and non-career
staff so there is no politicization of the merit system.”
Moffit also supports legislation to allow the president
to order the firing of career officials who either
“broke the law or severely undermined the public’s trust.”
“Even President [Barack] Obama referred to what
IRS officials did as outrageous and nothing
happened,” Moffit said. “The VA matter is still
unresolved. The people responsible for those waiting
lists aren’t accountable and people died.”