The fear in the federal workforce is palpable.
“Obviously, the end of my run is here,” predicted an Agriculture Department employee, sure that the new presidential administration won’t be friendly to his agency.
“The war on federal workers has just begun,” another declared in an online federal worker forum.
The country’s 2.1 million federal employees have survived decades of government reinvention and massive outsourcing to contractors. But with the inauguration of Donald Trump less than two weeks away, this threat feels different.
All over the nation’s capital, panicked job searches are underway among its legions of badge-wearing, Metro-commuting, “I-can’t-talk-to-you-I-work-for-the-government” federal workers.
“Does The Post have any openings?” one very experienced government employee asked me, right after another sent her résumé my way.
The dusting off of résumés had to trigger some air-quality warning. Oh, wait. Is the Environmental Protection Agency already gone?
[In liberal D.C., the arrival of Donald Trump is triggering an identity crisis]
Federal workers have good reason to be worried.
Because this isn’t the usual churn of administrations or change in ideologies that happens while the rest of the government employees — forest service folks in Oregon, levee engineers in Louisiana, astrophysicists in Maryland — keep working because their jobs are apolitical.
Trump is picking people to head government agencies they want to dismantle.
When he was governor of Texas and running for president in 2012, television dance star Rick Perry famously forgot that the Energy Department was one bureaucracy he’d like to eliminate. Now he’s going to head it.
Billionaire Betsy DeVos has been leading the move to privatize public education in Michigan. Now Trump wants her to head the Education Department.
U.S. ambassadors abroad have been told to leave their posts on Jan. 20 — an unprecedented hard stop to their service. And, most ominously, House Republicans are reviving an 1876 rule that allows a member of Congress to slash any federal salary to $1.
Basically, it means that any Loco Joe in Congress would be empowered to target any government worker anywhere.
“This rule is the choice vehicle for ethically corrupt members of Congress,” the National Federation of Federal Employees told its 110,000 members last week.
Let’s just be clear on what the United States looked like when Congress approved this rule in 1876. There were only 37 states. Alexander Graham Bell made his first phone call. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull wiped out most of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The world is a teeny bit different now. And pulling out rules from the same year that Wild Bill Hickok was shot at a poker table in Deadwood and Wyatt Earp took a job in Dodge City isn’t really progress.
The Republicans, who control Congress and the White House, will say this is all about saving money.
This is about draining the swamp.
This is about cutting government bloat and thinning the federal workforce.
“We will cut so much, your head will spin,” Trump promised.
Plenty of people will cheer him on despite the fact that federal workers are a bulwark of the country’s middle class. Remember, that middle class everyone was talking about during the campaign?
Federal workforce jobs are relatively stable in a disrupted economy. And although the most highly educated could earn more in the private sector, the average pay is about $86,000 a year, with benefits, a pension and federal holidays.
Demonizing federal workers to score political points is a regular sport in Washington — a tradition that predates George Wallace portraying them as self-important “pointy-headed” intellectuals in 1964.
And here’s the thing.
This workforce that’s supposedly as bloated and unwieldy as the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? It was about the same size in 1950. (You know, around the time so many folks think America was great?)
It also has been slowly shrinking and is now a little smaller than it was under Ronald Reagan.
So let’s stop pretending that this hostility toward federal workers is about cost-cutting.
Trump already has promised a huge building up of the military — at least 500,000 more in the Army alone. So money is not something that the federal government is looking to save.
This new Washington (or New York on the Potomac) has plenty of plans for our taxpayer dollars.
Trump is promising lots of nonmilitary jobs.
There’s The Wall! Imagine the work that’s going to create.
Construction workers, managers to deal with thousands of miles of worksite along the U.S.-Mexico border, paper pushers to get all the materials sorted and the laborers paid. Of course, that money will probably wind up going to private contractors, the guys who command $500 billion in taxpayer money every year, but aren’t counted as part of the federal workforce.
Maybe The Wall isn’t going to cost U.S. taxpayers anything because the workers aren’t really going to get paid. Just ask the guys at Magnolia Plumbing D.C. or AES Electric in Laurel, Md.
There’s also the promised deportation of about 3 million to 4 million undocumented immigrants. Imagine the federal workers required for that effort, given the current backlog of 500,000 deportation cases.
Then there’s this Muslim registry thing Trump keeps talking about.
So many workers will be needed to perform background checks on every American for Muslim-ness. There will be jobs for investigators, registrars and the like.
See, federal workers. There is hope in this new approach to running America.
If you don’t mind a good chance of not getting paid.
Read more Petula Dvorak:
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A smokescreen for bigotry: Disguising anti-Muslim bias with land-use objections
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