Rick Perry comments on federal workers anger union leaders

November 30, 2011

Federal worker union leaders responded angrily Wednesday to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s suggestion that he would reassign subordinate federal employees to “a God-awful place” if they failed to implement policy changes he would make as president.

In response to a question at a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., on Tuesday, Perry said he planned to employ advisers and officials “that understand my core philosophy that government should do a few things, but do those few things really, really well.”

Such a strategy 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,” he said.

Perry then delivered a warning to career federal staffers, using a hypothetical scenario at the Department of Health and Human Services as an example: “If you have Health and Human Service bureaucrats who try to block our being able to [send] 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 some in the assembled crowd but angry, personal retorts from union leaders.

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.

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Perry’s comments were not only mean but incorrect, because federal workers indeed can be fired for failing to implement policies.

“Perhaps that is a fact that Gov. Perry forgot, along with what federal agencies he would like to eliminate,” Kelley said, referencing Perry’s memory lapse during a recent debate when he failed to recall which three Cabinet departments he would shut down if he were elected.

The Perry campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

The Texas governor’s comments came as he confused the voting age and the date of Election Day 2012 during a New Hampshire appearance Tuesday, then mistakenly referred to the “New Hampshire caucuses” during a Wednesday interview on the Fox News Channel. New Hampshire hosts presidential primaries, while several other states hold caucuses.

Perry’s latest critique of the federal sector follows remarks last month that questioned the mission of the State Department and U.S. diplomats serving abroad. In response, the American Foreign Service Association issued a statement memorializing the dozens of American diplomats who have died in the line of duty overseas.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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