The Trump administration is working to purge federal government agencies of employees who do not fall in line with President Donald Trump's agenda, according to House Democrats and independent watchdog groups.
Though previous administrations also have attempted to skirt laws in place to protect civil servants from politically motivated ousting or reassignment, those watching the current climate in Washington have seen a marked increase under the Trump administration.
“I think we’re seeing a pattern across a number of agencies,” Nick Schwellenbach, the Director of Investigations at the Project On Government Oversight, told TPM. “Top political leadership is working to root out people they view as insufficiently loyal to Trump’s agenda. It’s extremely troubling, because federal government employees’ loyalty should be to the Constitution, not to the political masters of the moment.”
House Democrats recently received a slew of email communications indicating the White House, outside conservatives and right-wing media are working to oust career civil servants at the State Department who have been deemed disloyal to Trump's agenda.
The report on the emails set off alarm bells across Washington, D.C. and prompted Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to demand that the State Department hand over records of internal communications on the issue. Department officials have reportedly labeled certain career staffers “troublemaker,” “turncoat” and “Obama/Clinton loyalist” because of their work for past administrations.
Lawmakers were disturbed by the emails and have since requested all documents pertaining to the reassignment or proposed reassignment of State Department employees.
“Over the past year, we have heard many reports of political attacks on career employees at the State Department, but we had not seen evidence of how extensive, blunt, and inappropriate these attacks were until now,” said Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees.
The only recourse career employees have is to appeal their case to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which currently is staffed by just one person -- the other two potential board members are awaiting Senate confirmation.
But it could soon be that the MSPB's role will change, along with increased discretion and authority within federal agencies to remove employees:
The Labor Department Accountability Act and Education Department Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act replicate the VA’s legislative language almost exactly, giving the secretaries at those agencies more authority to swiftly suspend, involuntarily reassign, demote or remove employees.
The Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency (PAGE) Act would classify all new federal hires as “at-will” employees, meaning they could be “removed or suspended, without notice or right to appeal, from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed for good cause, bad cause or no cause at all.”
And the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement, and Transformation (MERIT) would allow Cabinet secretaries to fire any employee, provided they give a notice in writing, and would limit the employee’s ability to appeal the case to the MSPB.