President Trump's acting Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, told a Republican gathering in his native South Carolina last month that the White House is shifting some Federal agencies out of Washington D.C. to the Midwest to "drain the swamp" by driving career civil servants off the Federal payroll.
"What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government and do what we haven't been able to do for a long time," he told the audience at the South Carolina Republican Party Silver Elephant Gala. "It's really hard to drain the swamp, but we're working on it."
‘More Than Half Quit’
The former Congressman cited the Trump Administration's moving of two U.S. Department of Agriculture scientific research units to Kansas City, Mo. from Washington as a successful effort to shrink the civil-service payroll. "Guess what happened? More than half the people quit," Mr. Mulvaney said. "Now, it's nearly impossible to fire a Federal worker. I know that because a lot of them work for me, and I've tried. You can't do it."
He continued, "By simply saying to people, 'You know what, we're going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway bubble, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C. and move you out to the real part of the country,' and they quit."
But the American Federation of Government Employees said the real purpose of the relocations was to get rid of dedicated civil servants and "silence the parts of the agencies’ research that the administration views as inconvenient.”
Mr. Mulvaney's remarks were first reported in the Washington Examiner.
He is in a uniquely powerful position to accomplish his long-stated goals, combining his Oval Office position and his role as the Director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.
Thwarted on CFPB Move
During his speech, Mr. Mulvaney referred to his controversial tenure as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency created for the Obama Administration by Elizabeth Warren—prior to her becoming a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts—as a post-Great Recession reform. He said he was stymied in his efforts to move the agency to Cleveland because the legislation that established the CFPB prohibited such a maneuver.
"That’s how hard liberals work in making sure government lives forever," he said. "And the government consistently gets bigger, and you can't make it any smaller."
The AFGE, which represents 700,000 Federal workers in dozens of agencies, has been battling the Trump Administration on multiple fronts. Mr. Trump has used executive orders in an effort to strip the workforce of union protection. At the same time, his Cabinet officers have been working to reduce the regulatory footprint of the Federal Government, which the President maintains is anti-business and a waste of taxpayers' money.
The President also has left key positions vacant in agencies like the Merit Systems Protection Board that protects members of the Federal civil service from political reprisals.
AFGE National President J. David Cox in a statement linked the targeting of the USDA scientific research units as part of a broader effort by the White House to eliminate independent scientific research of hot-button topics like global warming and climate change, which Mr. Trump during his campaign rejected as a hoax.
"Mick Mulvaney's comments confirm what our union has been saying all along: the administration's decision to transfer hundreds of USDA jobs from D.C. isn't about helping Federal employees do their jobs better or delivering better services to the American taxpayer," Mr. Cox said. "Their goal is to drive out hardworking and dedicated civil servants and silence the parts of the agencies' research that the administration views as inconvenient."
Those comments came after the USDA disclosed that most of the employees with its Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture have said they will not relocate to the Kansas City area, as the agency is demanding.
‘An Epic Failure’
"Reports that two-thirds of employees at ERS and NIFA would rather lose their jobs than be forced to move more than a thousand miles from their homes with no time to plan demonstrates what an epic failure the administration has created with this forced relocation," Mr. Cox said. "AFGE has made proposals to USDA management that would encourage more employees to accept the relocation by providing for a longer transition period. Management so far has refused to consider these common-sense proposals."
The union estimates that the "USDA is likely to retain less than 10% of the total workforce at these two agencies once all is said and done."
The USDA plans to replace departing employees with contractors, which the AFGE asserts will actually cost the Federal Government more in the long run.
"Employees care deeply about their work and constantly ask us why USDA has not informed stakeholders of the impact of a severe loss of staff and has not made arrangements for the work of NIFA and ERS to continue during this transition," Mr. Cox said. "It seems inevitable that research-grant money will not be awarded, that planned scientific research will not happen, and that key studies on international trade and international development will not be completed. By law, money earmarked for NIFA grants and ERS studies returns to the Treasury if unspent, forever lost to scientists and researchers."
EPA Tears Up Union Pact
At the same time as the White House is upending the USDA research units, it has thrown out the contract the Environmental Protection Agency has covering 8,000 agency employees represented by the AFGE.
On July 8, EPA leadership unilaterally replaced its collective-bargaining agreement with AFGE Council 238. The move permitted management to prohibit employees from telecommuting, reduced by three-quarters the amount of time union representatives can spend representing employees, and evicted union representatives from their agency offices.
"The engineers, scientists, environmental attorneys, and other experts we represent at EPA fight every day to ensure we have clean air and water, prosecute environmental crimes, clean up toxic-waste sites, and combat the effects of climate change," AFGE Council 238 President Gary Morton said. "The future of our planet is at stake, yet this administration is more interested in busting Federal unions and punishing career employees than ensuring they have the tools to succeed."
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