Updated 4:18 p.m. ET
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has a warning for federal employees: If I win the White House, you’d better get in line.
Campaigning Tuesday in New Hampshire, Perry said he would seek to reassign federal employees who disagree with his policies if he’s elected president.
The statement earned angry responses from federal worker labor unions, who launched personal attacks on the governor in response to his statement.
In response to a question at a town hall in Derry, N.H., Perry said Tuesday that he would employ advisers and officials “that understand my core philosophy that government should do a few things, but do those few things really, really well.”
That would mean restructuring the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies to reduce federal regulations on people “who are out there trying to create jobs and create wealth for this country.”
And what would he do with career federal workers who disagree with his changes?
“Health and Human Services is a great example,” he said. “If you have Health and Human Service bureaucrats who try to block our being able to block grant dollars back to the states, so you all can decide how best to deliver health care in New Hampshire. I don’t think you can fire federal bureaucrats, but you can reassign them. So, but reassign them to some really God-awful place.”
The line earned laughs from the crowd — but federal worker union leaders swung back hard on Wednesday.
William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees said Perry “sees a political opportunity in painting federal workers as a symbol of big government, and he is exploiting it to the fullest.”
“If Governor Perry wants to know what ‘a God awful place’ looks like, he should imagine Texas without thousands of dedicated federal employees defending its border, staffing its VA hospitals, and extinguishing its wildfires,” Dougan said in a statement, in reference to federal assistance for Texas’s summer wildfires.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Perry’s comments were not only mean but incorrect. Federal workers indeed may be fired for failing to implement policies promoted by political leaders, she said.
“Perhaps that is a fact that Gov. Perry forgot along with what federal agencies he would like to eliminate,” Kelley said, referring to when Perry forgot which of the three federal Cabinet departments he hopes to eliminate as president.
The Texas governor’s comments came the same day that he confused the voting age and date of Election Day 2012 and follow similar remarks made last month regarding the purpose of the State Department and U.S. personnel stationed abroad. Those remarks, made on a radio program, earned him the ire of rank and file members of the Foreign Service, who noted that dozens of American diplomats have been killed while on duty overseas.
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