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Monday, August 7, 2017

While Freedom Of Speech Is Important, Government Employees Cannot Refuse Legal Orders




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defiance of 


Federal employees step up defiance of Trump
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Government employees are growing
 increasingly willing to criticize or defy the
 White House and President Trump’s top
A handful of current and former career
staffers in the Interior Department and
 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
 have openly shredded their superiors within
the last several weeks, continuing a trend
 that has developed throughout the
government over the course of Trump’s
tenure in the Oval Office. 
The growing opposition in the executive
 branch comes as the White House’s
legislative agenda has stalled in Congress
 and Trump turns to his Cabinet agencies
 to change course in several policy areas.
 It also is emanating from career staffers or
 political holdovers whose resistance to
Trump has, at times, been rooted in deep
opposition to the president’s agenda. 

“From our point of view, it’s kind of obvious,”
 said Jeff Ruch, the executive director of
Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), when asked about
staffers’ growing pushback.  
“You have Donald Trump, who ran and
said he would drain the swamp, meaning
Trump’s allies have often cast the president
as the victim of the “deep state,” an
entrenched liberal bureaucracy bent on
damaging his agenda through leaks and
They argue the deep state extends from
 agencies such as the EPA, where
employees could be angered with Trump’s
decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal,
 to career service intelligence agency staff
 who leak damaging information about the
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on
 Friday even accused special counsel
Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now
 investigating Russia’s involvement in last
 year’s election, as representing the “deep
 state at its worse.”
Conservatives are unsurprised by the
 opposition from federal employees.
Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the
 Competitive Enterprise Institute, pointed
to news reports about upset employees,
social media campaigns and “civil
disobedience” training for staffers looking
 to push back against the White House. 
GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, a
contributor to The Hill, attributed the
blowback to a host of factors, from the
 political make-up of civil servants to the
 use of holdover officials in government
offices that are still waiting for the Senate to
confirm Trump political appointees.
He said there is also a “real industry now
 behind recruiting whistleblowers inside the
 resistance movement,” and creating public
 outcry about the administration.
“It’s not enough just to be a government
employee and resign because of the
 direction your agency is going,” he said,
noting that officials’ concerns are often
sincere. “Now you have to do it in a highly
 public way, out of social pressure and
personal motivation.”
Critics of Trump say government employees
 speaking out should be commended, not
“I think career staff don’t typically speak out
 publicly unless they feel like there are
serious issues and problems going on
within the agency,” said Liz Purchia, a
former Obama administration EPA
“It takes a lot of guts for someone to make
 the decision to end their government
service and to put themselves out there
for public scrutiny and comment. … You
 wouldn’t see that if they didn’t feel like
there was a considerable threat to the
agency and its missions.”
PEER on Tuesday released an open letter
 from Elizabeth Southerland, a former top
water official at the EPA who said she was
 retiring because of proposed deep budget
cuts to the agency and Administrator Scott
Pruitt’s deregulatory agenda. She wrote
 that “the environmental field is suffering
 from the temporary triumph of myth over
Her broadside came less than a week after
David Schnare, a former 34-year EPA
veteran and Trump transition official, hit a
 Pruitt climate science debate plan as “silly”
and said he resigned from his post because
 of Pruitt’s leadership. 
The EPA called Schnare’s statement “false”
and “wildly untrue,” and a spokesman
questioned whether Southerland was
 retiring “because of a budget proposal,
 and not because she’s eligible for her
six-figure government pension.”
Several former staffers have launched a
 group called “Save EPA” to defend the
agency. And Ruch said EPA unions and
 employees invited his group to do “free-
speech brown bag presentations” about
 how to legally fight back against the
In the Interior Department, the former
 director of the Office of Policy Analysis,
Joel Clement, has filed a whistleblower
complaint against Trump administration
political appointees such as Secretary
 Ryan Zinke, saying he was reassigned
to the agency’s revenue office because
 of his former research and advocacy
over climate change. 
An agency spokesman said last month
 that reassignments are “conducted to
better serve the taxpayer and the
 Department's operations.” Several
Senate Democrats have asked for an
 Office of Inspector General investigation
 into the complaint. 
Trump himself has been the subject of
dissent within his ranks. 
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul
 Zukunft said this week that the service
“will not break faith” with its transgender
members, despite President Trump’s
promise to roll back policies allowing
 transgender service members. 
The acting director of the Drug Enforcement
 Agency also broke with the president,
 saying Trump “condoned police
 misconduct” in his speech to law
enforcement on Long Island last week.
Walter Shaub, the former head of the
Office of Government Ethics, resigned
 in July after publicly clashing with Trump
 on ethical issues. And the president was
 forced to fire Sally Yates, his acting attorney
general, in January, 11 days into her term,
 when she refused to defend an immigration
Public employee advocates said staffers
 are still feeling the whiplash brought on
 by a new administration, even six months
 after Trump took office in January. 
Even so, Ruch expected employees to
power forward and doesn't expect an
 “exodus” of retirements, or that as many
EPA employees will take agency buyouts
as officials expect.
“We’ve been to this rodeo before,” he said.