It may not be much to brag about, but give the Trump Administration credit for making no pretense of its anti-union bias when it comes to government workers. It manages to invert reality to try to convince its supporters that career civil servants, rather than the President’s own group of ethically challenged appointees and the profligately chaotic management style that led him to file for business bankruptcy six times in the private sector, are what’s ailing the Federal Government.
The administration recently moved two U.S. Department of Agriculture scientific research units to Kansas City, Mo. from Washington, D.C. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many of those workers, has claimed that the shift was not about trying to improve services to taxpayers but rather an effort to force veteran employees who were understandably reluctant to relocate halfway across the country to quit.
Some administrations would deny harboring such motives and issue boilerplate statements about their motives being pure and how they hoped to work together with their union partners to ease the disruptions of workers’ lives.
But Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s Acting Chief of Staff—a title that may offer him more job security than his two predecessors who had the “permanent” title, Reince Priebus and John Kelly—didn’t exactly hide behind euphemisms when he addressed a South Carolina Republican gathering last month.
“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 his audience. “It’s really hard to drain the swamp, but we’re working on it.”
He spoke of the two units being shifted to Missouri in order to shrink the cadre of veteran civil servants in them. “Guess what happened?” he chortled. “More than half the people quit. 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.”
But, 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.”
Our guess is that the displaced Federal workers had no aversion to what Mr. Mulvaney called “the real part of the country,” they simply didn’t want to uproot themselves and their families to stay with an administration that increasingly has tried to curtail employee protections and limit the extent to which Federal unions can properly represent them. Federal workers who weren’t political appointees generally don’t bring ideological biases to their jobs; they just like the idea of government service combined with decent compensation and job security.
In return, they provide agencies with stability and institutional knowledge that those who are political appointees, including persons tapped to run Federal departments, often lack. But a President for whom stability matters far less than loyalty isn’t likely to value those kinds of workers, and Mr. Trump may share Mr. Mulvaney’s glee in presenting them with a difficult choice.
And as AFGE President J. David Cox noted, clearing out those longtime civil servants makes it easier for the administration to pursue its ideological goals, no matter how wrong-headed. “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,” he said.
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