The Swine Line: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Trump to Resistant Bureaucrats: You're Fired

The Swine Line is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.

Disturbing news was reported in the January 31, 2017 Washington Post about a growing resistance from federal workers in implementing President Trump’s policies.

According to the Post, “[l]ess than two weeks into the Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.”

Last weekend, dozens of federal workers met at a church in Columbia Heights, a section of northwest Washington, D.C., to deliberate how to oppose the new administration. They plan to meet again this weekend to receive advice on how to express civil disobedience and learn about their rights as a federal employee.

The Post had a conversation with one of the employees involved in the resistance movement. ‘“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,’ said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, ‘people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.’  The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs.”

Last weekend, Justice Department Acting Attorney General Sally Yates directed the department attorneys to not defend President Trump’s executive order that temporarily suspends entry by nationals from seven countries: Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days, among other provisions. While this executive order has been declared to be within the law according to well-known attorneys and Constitutional scholars, such as Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Turley, and Yates' own Department of Legal Counsel, she chose to defy the president’s orders. Yates was fired by the president within hours of announcing her directive.

While many in the press and Democrats likened the firing to the Nixon-Watergate “Saturday Night Massacre,” it was nothing of the sort. Ms. Yates was a political appointee, a hold-over from the Obama administration. She would have left as soon as Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions filled the office but, apparently she decided to leave in a blaze of glory.

Days later, another example of federal employee resistance to the executive order was made when more than 900 State Department “diplomats” signed an internal dissent memo, a process which exists to allow officials express their disagreement with policy. While the number of signatories appears to have set a record, one needs to keep it in perspective. There are more than 34,000 State Department employees world-wide so less than 3 percent signed the dissent memo. Considering there are ongoing efforts that involve former Obama employees to disrupt the Trump administration’s efforts, one can only wonder how many of these signatories are ex-political appointees that have “burrowed in” the bureaucracy and became career staff. We may never know because these memos are internal and not meant for public release.

The resistance is troubling as the Trump administration will need to depend on career federal employees to implement many of his policies. For example, efforts are underway in Congress to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare. Meanwhile, much of it can be done by administrative action and a recent executive order, signed by the president on his first day in office, directs federal agencies to minimize the economic burden of Obamacare pending its repeal. Because the ACA has more than 1,300 directives that give the Secretary of HHS a lot of discretion in implementing the law, Secretary-designate Tom Price will depend on federal careerists in the massive Health and Human Services bureaucracy to do the job of writing new regulations that gut the law's mandates.

The Post also wrote, “Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a Trump adviser and longtime critic of the bureaucracy, said the pushback against the new administration reveals how firmly entrenched liberals are and how threatened they feel by the new regime. He cited an analysis by the Hill newspaper that showed that 95 percent of campaign donations from employees at 14 federal agencies went to Hillary Clinton last fall. ‘This is essentially the opposition in waiting,' Gingrich said. '[President Trump] may have to clean out the Justice Department because there are so many left-wingers there. [The Department of] State is even worse.”'

What has Congress been doing to address problems with bureaucrats that do their job poorly?  For example, with regard to the Veterans Administration (VA), Congress has begun to take action to address the years of excessive wait times, poor management, employee misbehavior, and the abuse of whistleblowers seen at V.A. hospitals. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) has introduced H.R. 611, the "V.A. Accountability First and Appeals Modernization Act." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a companion bill, S. 152. Both bills would make is easier to fire V.A. employees for poor performance and misconduct.

Expect similar congressional action to address the growing resistance by federal employees in other agencies to do their job in the Trump administration. Any such law would be designed to make it easier for Trump and future presidents to say, "you're fired!"

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