Springfield President Trump came into his first State of the Union speech marking the end of his first year in office with the lowest level of popular support for his job performance in modern times with only 37% of the American people approving his work according to polls. Perhaps unsurprisingly he used the opportunity to dog whistle his base by taking shots at workers both large and small.
Part of the red meat of the right is attacking federal workers as bureaucrats and bums, and Trump seemed to be calling for an end to civil service protections for federal workers, saying he would “…call on Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” That’s a scary statement that seems to call for something somewhere between a purge and a witch hunt based of the whims of a totally political appointee, which is what all cabinet secretaries are. What objective standards might possibly fairly determine among the millions of federal workers, who had undermined “public trust” or failed “the American people? Given Trump’s random broadsides at the Justice Department, State Department, and any number of others when they seemed to displease him, his remarks seem to be a call for an open season on any workers at any level that displease them so that they could be fired immediately.
This isn’t about the “spoils system,” which is part of the reason the federal civil service and others protections in most cities and states were created in order to prevent politicians from just randomly eliminating hard working civil servants to hire their buddies as part of their patronage. Last reports there were still thousands of appointments still not tendered by the administration for jobs that were exclusively political, rather than civil service qualified. Trump already has more jobs available for his sycophants than he seems to have people ready and willing to serve. This is all about a federal worker equivalent of his old reality show that he wants to make his new reality show from the White House where he can tweet “you’re fired” at every federal worker who offends him that minute. That’s not why we change a civil service system, that’s why we have a civil service system!
The precedent that Trump is trying to leverage here is the “Veterans Administration Accountability Act,” passed by Congress last June, which gives expedited firing authority to the VA chief. According to a White House fact sheet distributed during the speech, 1,470 VA employees were fired between the law’s enactment and the end of 2017, with 443 suspended and 83 demoted.” This program has been controversial and was triggered by problems in service delivery by the VA, and many believe this is the wolf trying to cover itself in the sheep’s clothing of that scandal in an effort to privatize the VA itself, despite its sterling record of offering top of the line health care and cost controls for millions of veterans.
The American Federal Government Employees union and the National Treasury Employees Union both immediately condemned these remarks. Some also thought this was a guise for Trump’s attack on the Justice Department not bending to his will and whim. The threat is meant to intimidate and chill the rights of federal workers, but these are also the words of a tyrant on try out, so his calls must be rejected.