Republicans hold control of all three branches of government, and therefore have a responsibility to lead the civil service that employs millions of Americans, and every American relies upon for myriad services. The overwhelming majority of federal workers are hardworking people who devote themselves to public service. They secure borders, keep food safe, advance scientific and medical research, deliver our mail, and provide care to many of us, including our veterans.
Republican leaders have repaid this service with repeated attacks.
In 2013, they shut down the government as a political stunt, and came hours away from doing it again in 2015 at the Department of Homeland Security. They enacted the Budget Control Act, which ultimately led to Sequestration, cutting the budget of every federal agency with the surgical precision of a meat-ax.
But since Republicans acquired total control over government, their treatment of federal workers has been beyond the pale.
On the first day of the new Congress, House Republicans passed a rules package over our loud objections containing a reinstatement of the Holman Rule, which would potentially allow Congress to engage in political retribution against federal workers by reducing any given employee’s salary to $1. Only three Republicans opposed the measure on the floor, none from Virginia or Maryland.
The Holman Rule was especially troubling in light of the new administration’s so-called “enemies list” of employees who had worked on specific policy areas for the Obama Administration, such as climate policy.
As one of his first actions, President Trump announced a hiring freeze for federal workers. This is terrible policy and a mindless approach to management that dodges hard decisions.
The Government Accountability Office studied past hiring freezes and found them “not effective.” The government is more likely to rely on overtime and contract work, which often costs taxpayers more. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans have total uncertainty in their professional lives. Agencies are unable to make efficient, long term plans, driving up costs and hurting morale. Over time, Americans trying to manage social security benefits, travel in airports, or secure healthcare will see the impact of this freeze when benefits are not mailed or airport security lines move much more slowly.
Two other classes of citizen are hit particularly hard: people with disabilities and veterans.
In 2015, due to Obama Administration initiatives, 19 percent of the federal government’s new hires were people with disabilities. The federal government has hired 109,000 people with disabilities in the past five years.
Veterans stand to be among those hardest hit by the hiring freeze. The Veterans Administration is one of the largest federal employers, but is also significantly understaffed. Delivering the care promised to those who served in the armed forces depends on having effective staff to deliver that care.
Over 30 percent of the civilian federal workforce is made up of veterans, a number which has grown consistently as agencies prioritized hiring vets. Many of the positions held vacant by the hiring freeze would have gone to vets, and the progress we have made on veteran unemployment will be halted.
Contrary to this administration’s claims, the federal workforce is dwindling as a share of the population. And 85 percent of federal workers are located outside the beltway. It is also aging, and over a third of the current feds will be eligible for retirement by September. Federal workers have been treated as a piggy bank by Congress for years now, their pay raises delayed or denied, they’ve been furloughed and had their benefits cut. Now their morale is hit by politicians who make them a political punching bag. A bill just proposed in Congress would make all federal workers “at-will” employees, exposing them to political retribution and punishment by a hostile administration without recourse.
The federal workforce is not, as Mr. Trump has said, a “swamp.” It is a group of committed Americans who serve us, and they deserve better from Congress. The Republican Party has total control over the levers of government. Will any of its leaders have the decency or the courage to fight for the civil service which serves us all?