Federal Workers vs Trump

The Trump Administration is facing a problem that all Republican administrations face but this time it is even more acute. I think that most people understand and would admit that federal employees tend to be more liberal that the general public and probably vote heavily Democrat. They work for the government and therefore see expansion of both government regulations and the government workforce as beneficial to their career goals. Republicans come to the White House with goals that would rein in government and the regulatory efforts of various agencies.

My younger brother was the Chief of Staff at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Reagan Administration. He simultaneously served as the Director of HCFA (now CMMS) which administers Medicare and Medicaid. On multiple occasions he would sit in meetings with career employees that would not only balk at proposed changes but would show open hostility in overturning policies enacted by the previous administration. One employee informed him that “he was there before this administration and would be there long after it was over” so he frankly did not really care what they thought. This attitude is prevalent throughout the federal workforce.

Make no mistake, federal employees view the Trump Administration as the enemy. A simple look at the President’s budget will give you a clue as to why. He has called for a 1.9% increase in pay but at the same time he has proposed bringing their retirement system more in line with what exists in the private sector. Some of us are old enough to remember the old Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) system that was replaced in 1986 by the new Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) as a first attempt to rein in costs of government retirement benefits.

Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget would:

  • Increase Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) contributions from workers by 1 percentage point each year until they equal the government’s contribution. This would take five to six years and would result in increased out-of-pocket payments of about 6 percent over that period. Out-of-pocket payments by federal law enforcement officers would increase by the same amount, but would not equal the greater contributions from law enforcement agencies.
  • Base future retirement benefits on the average of the high five years of salary instead of the current high three
  • Eliminate cost of living adjustments (COLA) for current and future FERS employees
  • Cut the COLA for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employees by 0.5 percent from what the formula would allowed
  • Eliminate supplement payments for FERS employees who retire beginning in 2018. The supplement approximates the value of Social Security benefits for those who retire before age 62.

This alone would make federal employees angry (some of these budget proposals will never make if through) and when you couple this with Trump’s recommendations to slash regulations some federal employees feel the bile rising in their throats. Trump has also recommended reducing the size of the federal workforce by a significant number.

There was an article earlier this month in “The Hill” that made it clear that federal employees, particularly those at the EPA, are stepping up their opposition to the Trump administration and they are becoming more open in their opposition.   Normally employees would hunker down and wait out a new administration but after eight years of President Obama they became used to a style of leadership that encourage government activism. Now they are faced with a diametrically opposite agenda, one that would roll back many of the rules and regulations they had just enacted. Some of these employees have only known Obama.

In a press conference a while back former White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, mentioned the use of “Ramspecking” for former Presidential employees burrowing into the federal government. This was based on a 1940 law that allowed Congressional employees who lost their job involuntarily (election loss by their member of congress) to get jobs in the federal government without going through the civil service system. That law was repealed in 1997 after a lot of Democrats lost elections in 1994 and several hundred hill staffers immediately jumped to the Bill Clinton Administration.

What the Trump administration is faced with now is a federal career employee base that is decidedly opposed to his policies. You have hold overs from the Obama administration that looked forward to a Clinton administration only to be disappointed. Articles are appearing in the press about federal employees openly being defiant of the Trump administration and trying to sabotage the new policies and administrators. A survey in May showed that 70% of federal employees disapprove of Trump and think he is hurting the reputation of the federal workforce and oppose him.

Now I know this will fall on deaf ears but I think that if you believe you cannot support the head of the administration you should consider resigning and seeking employment somewhere else. In the private sector this is exactly what happens. When a new management team takes over a company and employees oppose the new direction they are taking the company they either leave of their own volition or eventually they are asked to leave.

Career federal employees are not tasked with setting the policies and agenda of the government. They are tasked with implementing those policies and failure to do so should be grounds for termination. This is why we hold elections and whether you agree with the newly elected President, no matter which party or political persuasion, you are obligated to work for the new President and give him your full support.

This is the crux of the problem. All federal workers take an oath to support the Constitution and that mean the duly elected officials that will lead the government. We read terms like “Deep State” and “Shadow Government” which refer to both career federal employees and hold overs from the Obama Administration who are determined to undermine the Trump Presidency and try to thwart his goals. The problem with this philosophy is it encourages federal workers to engage in setting policy as opposed to implementing policy. You may not like what this new President is doing but then you would be opposed to federal workers trying to deter the next President. Federal workers should remember their oath and do their job.

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