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Trump has repeatedly been frustrated by career civil servants who are by definition protected from political vendettas. Unlike political appointees, they can only be removed for cause. Political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president or the political boss who hired them. When I served in the first Bush administration from 1991-1993, the civil servants referred to us political appointees as the “Christmas help.” They knew that after the next election, or the one after that, we would all be gone.
Before the federal civil service was established in 1871, all government jobs were patronage. There was a saying that “to the victor goes the spoils,” and the spoils were the many thousands of jobs in government that could be handed out to campaign workers and cronies. The establishment of the civil service assured that there would be a nonpartisan career staff in every agency, and that they would be directed by the political appointees, the policy makers who had no guaranteed tenure of office.
But Trump wants to strip away civil service protections from many career civil servants so he can exercise more control and replace career professionals with political loyalists. This is the goal of an autocrat.
President Trump this week fired his biggest broadside yet against the federal bureaucracy by issuing an executive order that would remove job security from an estimated tens of thousands of civil servants and dramatically remake the government.
The directive, issued late Wednesday, strips long-held civil service protections from employees whose work involves policymaking, allowing them to be dismissed with little cause or recourse, much like the political appointees who come and go with each administration.
Federal scientists, attorneys, regulators, public health experts and many others in senior roles would lose rights to due process and in some cases, union representation, at agencies across the government. The White House declined to say how many jobs would be swept into a class of employees with fewer civil service rights, but civil service experts and union leaders estimated anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands in a workforce of 2.1 million.
It would be a profound reimagining of the career workforce, but one that may end up as a statement of purpose rather than anything else. The order fast-tracks a process that gives agencies until Jan. 19 to review potentially affected jobs. That’s a day before the next presidential inauguration. An administration under Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be unlikely to allow the changes to proceed.…
“I am calling this a declaration of war on the civil service,” said Richard Loeb, senior policy counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers.
Political appointees ultimately call the shots on policy direction, but career employees advise them on how to follow the law and implement their priorities.
Tensions are common. But in the Trump era, they have reached a fever pitch in many offices, as career employees chafe at an agenda that has upended Washington. Political appointees have come to view many civil servants with suspicion.
If this executive order were implemented, Trump could fire Dr. Anthony Fauci and other experts who have worked for the federal government for decades, impervious to political interference.
A follow-up story in the Washington Post reported that Trump’s executive order was in the works for nearly four years.
President Trump’s extraordinary directive allowing his administration to weed out career federal employees viewed as disloyal in a second term is the product of a four-year campaign by conservatives working from a little-known West Wing policy shop.
Soon after Trump took office, a young aide hired from the Heritage Foundation with bold ideas for reining in the sprawling bureaucracy of 2.1 million came up with a blueprint. Trump would hold employees accountable, sideline their labor unions and give the president more power to hire and fire them, much like political appointees.
The plan was a counterweight to the “deep state” Trump believed was out to disrupt his agenda. Coordinating labor policy for the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, James Sherk presented his bosses with a 19-page to-do list titled “Proposed Labor Reforms.” A top category was “Creating a government that serves the people.”
The result this week threatens to be the most significant assault on the nonpartisan civil service in its 137-year history: a sweeping executive order that strips job protections from employees in policy roles across the government. Exactly which roles would be affected will be up to personnel officials at federal agencies, who were tasked on Friday with reviewing all of their jobs and deciding who would qualify.
The order, a year in the making after delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, came less than two weeks before Trump will ask voters for a second term.
Still, it was not a last-minute idea or presidential whim. Rather, the wonky-sounding “Executive Order on Creating Schedule F in the Excepted Service” is a crowning achievement of conservative policy on the civil service.
Civil service experts and union leaders have assailed the order as an effort to impose political loyalty tests on a nonpartisan workforce. The directive likely would not survive if Joe Biden is elected president.
A day after issuing a directive crafted in such secrecy that senior officials across the government had no idea it was coming, Trump railed to donors that he presides over a government of miscreants.
“Somebody said, President, what’s the toughest country to deal with? Is it Russia? Is it China? Is it North Korea?” Trump told attendees at a fundraiser before Thursday’s debate in Nashville, saying it was harder to deal with officials inside his own government than with North Korea or Russia, according to one person who was there. “No, the toughest country by far is dealing with the United States,” Trump said. “It’s true. These people are sick.”
The president went on to denigrate civil servants who served in government before his election. “Well, you have a lot of people from past administrations, and they’re civil service. I fired some,” he said, referring to his efforts to purge several career diplomats and others who testified against him during last year’s impeachment hearings.
“I say some, just get rid of them,” the president continued. “We had a lot of them come to the floor during the impeachment hoax. You see them coming in with their bow ties and everything. It’s a weird deal,” Trump said. “We have some pretty deep-set, deep-seated people — we got a lot of them, and we got rid of a lot of them.”
Trump’s obsession with government employees he believes are against him has grown in recent months after his impeachment trial and the publication of the anonymous book “A Warning,” said four officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The book is a critical account of the Trump administration written by an unnamed person described as a senior administration official.