Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Members and supporters of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) participate in a "Stand Up, Stand In" protest in the Hart Senate Office Building Atrium as part of the 2020 Legislative and Grassroots Mobilization Conference on February 11, 2020 in Washington, D.C. AFGE members protested to raise awareness on how the Trump administration is hurting federal employees through various policies. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

Quietly Signed Trump Order Denounced as 'Declaration of War' Against Federal Employees

The order sets up Trump's "cronies to burrow into permanent jobs in the U.S. government," said one critic. 

Julia Conley

After years of complaining that career federal employees are part of the "deep state" and aim to undermine his administration, President Donald Trump this week took a major step toward remaking the federal government as one without nonpartisan civil servants—signing a little-noticed executive order that would strip potentially hundreds of thousands of government employees of their job security.

Under the order, signed late Wednesday, career federal employees could be fired with little or no cause, lose their right to due process, and potentially lose union representation. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist warned the president's move would strip protections from some of the same kinds of career federal officials and experts who have challenged Trump's policies during his nearly four years in officeincluding Dr. Anthony Fauci and scientists who study the climate crisis.

"Examples of people whose jobs could no longer be protected," she tweeted, include:

As University of Texas professor Donald F. Kettl wrote at the publication Government Executive, the order is vague enough to allow the loss of job protections, which carry over for career federal employees when a new president is elected, regardless of party, for a broad range of civil servants:

Top officials could classify positions as having "a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character." Then they could sweep employees holding those positions into a new "Schedule F," where employees would lose all protections, including those against discrimination, forced reassignments and relocations, and any rights to organize or appeal personnel decisions, for example. Most important, employees could be dismissed for any reason whatsoever. 

Kettle called the order "the biggest effort in history to sweep aside 140 years of federal policy promoting professional expertise in government."

"It would have a vast impact on government, on its workers, and on the public's trust in getting a fair and impartial shake from government programs," he added. 

Richard Loeb, senior policy counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union representing federal workers, called the order "a declaration of war on the civil service," following numerous attempts by Trump to erode protections for federal employees. 

In February, Trump issued a memo allowing Defense Secretary Mark Esper to abolish collective bargaining rights for the Defense Department's 750,000 civilian workers. The AFGE sued the administration in 2018 over Trump's executive order seeking to deny workers the right to job site representation.  

The president's latest attack on federal workers is an attempt to remake the federal government as an organization that worksfor him instead of for the public, Loeb told the Washington Post. 

"This could be used to put a whole bunch of Trump loyalists in place" even if Trump loses the general election on Nov. 3, Loeb told the Post. 

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, echoed Loeb's warning, tweeting that in signing the order, Trump is "setting up his cronies to burrow into permanent jobs in the U.S. government."

"This executive order is yet another attack on federal employees that addresses absolutely none of the issues that can hinder effective federal recruitment and hiring," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) in a statement. "It's a cheap ploy to let the Trump administration replace talent and acumen with fealty and self-dealing."

Career federal employees are responsible for advising partisan political appointees on how to follow the law and implement policies, and work under both Republican and Democratic administrations. But Trump has regarded federal workers who weren't selected by his administration with suspicion. In August he tweeted that "the deep state" at the FDA was intentionally holding up approval of coronavirus vaccines and treatments in order to harm his chances of reelection. 

Months after taking office, Trump said in a speech in Poland that Americans face a danger "invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people." The statement followed remarks from former White House advisor Steve Bannon that federal employees could expect Trump to oversee the "deconstruction of the administrative state." 

Under Trump's order, Max Stier of the nonpartisan group Partnership for Public Service told the Post, the president apparently intends to begin treating career civil servants as political appointees who he can hire and fire at will.

"The effect and the apparent intent is that they are moving them into that box," Stier told the Post. "The discretion for both hiring and firing is so great that the merit principles are undermined and they resemble a political appointee much more than a career civil servant."

Loren DeJonge Schulman, a former defense and national security advisor in the Obama administration, tweeted that the order effectively politicizes "the policy apparatus of government."

"A civil service protected from politics is a key element underwriting our democracy," she added. "Peaceful transitions are possible because a professional class of civil servants serves across administrations regardless of politics."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

New Reporting Exposes Dr. Oz as 'Malicious Scam Artist,' Says Fetterman

"Everything he says has been a scam to help himself—not the viewers, not the voters," the Democratic Senate candidate said of his opponent.

Julia Conley ·

UK's Truss Drops Tax Break for Wealthy, But Austerity Threat Remains Amid 'Tory Class War'

The reversal follows 10 days of financial turmoil and pushback from within the Tory Party as well as from the left, which held massive anti-austerity protests.

Kenny Stancil ·

'Future of Clean Water on the Line' as Supreme Court Takes Up Challenge to Bedrock Law

"If the Supreme Court excludes Clean Water Act protections from major wetlands and other waters," one climate group warned, "the damage to water quality, flood control, and wildlife habit would be severe."

Jake Johnson ·

'We Will Be on the Streets': Lula Vows Resolve as Brazil Heads Toward Runoff

"We don't have a break. We are going to work hard," said the leftist former president. "And we have 28 more days."

Jake Johnson ·

Brazil Votes Live: Lula Wins the First Round Over Far-Right Bolsonaro; Runoff Oct. 30

Lula took the lead as more rural votes counted but failed to reach 50%

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo