Donald Trump’s electoral-college victory for president provides this lesson for federal employees — anyone can aspire to high government office, no matter how unqualified.
Hillary Clinton’s loss, despite an apparent popular-vote victory, also provides a lesson — life ain’t fair.
Fair or not, federal employees serve a government that will soon have a new boss in chief, one who thinks a federal hiring freeze would fight corruption. His victory shocked leaders of federal employee unions that largely, though not unanimously, backed Clinton. Nonetheless, they are determined to make the best of a bad situation.
“We’re very disappointed,” said William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees. Having a Senate, House and White House controlled by Republicans “creates a whole new set of challenges for us” in dealing with “those who don’t have their [federal employees’] best interests at heart.”
With no experience in government, a mercurial temperament and little discernible governing philosophy, Trump is hard to predict. But we know from his statements and positions, and those of his lieutenants, that the coming four years could be tough ones for the federal workforce.
Consider remarks by two top Trump supporters, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). On separate occasions, each has urged Trump to fire federal employees faster, requiring changes to long-standing civil-service regulations designed to protect the political independence of the workforce.
Gingrich predicted an “ongoing war” with federal unions. That certainly would doom efforts to find areas of cooperation.
Trump ran as a Republican, so he presumably will follow the party’s platform. It advocates a 10 percent cut in the workforce and compensation hits. The platform also targets federal workers who are behind on their taxes, even though the federal employee delinquency rate is only about half that of the general population.
Trump’s No. 2, Vice President-elect Mike Pence, has “a very strong record of being against any type of government employee,” American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox Sr. said during the campaign.
Pence, the governor of Indiana who has supported anti-union laws and limiting workers’ rights, earned a zero rating from AFGE during his last term in the House, which ended in 2013.
“I think it’s fair to say federal employees are going to be facing a number of challenges ahead,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. “We’re going to have to work really hard to educate the new administration about federal employee issues and the support they need to perform their mission on behalf of the American public.”
The hiring freeze is one concrete federal workforce proposal Trump committed to in writing.
Trump indicated the importance of a freeze, with limited exceptions, when he made it the second of 28 points in his “Contract With the American Voter.” But unlike previous calls for a freeze, Trump’s is not proposed as a money-saving measure. Instead, he listed it as a tactic to clean up corruption and special interests in Washington, as if there is a connection.
Federal Managers Association President Renee Johnson said her organization opposes “arbitrary attrition policies” because of “the severe negative impact that a reduction of resources has had on services.”
Trump’s call for a hiring freeze demonstrates why federal labor organizations will “play defense on many of the issues that are important to federal employees,” said Matthew S. Biggs, legislative director of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.
At the time of the freeze proposal, Cox said Trump’s “broad, ill-defined hiring freeze is more evidence that he is unprepared and unfit to be the next president of the United States.” On Wednesday, Cox, a visible presence at Clinton events, pledged to “work with the Trump administration on areas of common ground.”
It will be difficult for many to find common ground on workplace diversity with a man who came to political prominence as a leader of the racist birther movement, designed to sabotage America’s first black president. Diversity has been an important goal for President Obama.
Two federal unions, the National Border Patrol Council and the National ICE Council should have no difficulty finding common ground with Trump because they endorsed him, in noted contrast with AFGE, their parent organization. The councils like his get-tough immigration proposals, such as banning Muslims from entering the country, or some variation, and building a border wall that Mexico would fund.
“We think it’s going to be a brand new day,” said Shawn Moran, NBPC vice president. “We have someone in the White House who understands our mission and supports our mission.”
But with the policies Trump and his supporters promote, that new day will be cold and cloudy for federal workers. Has he shown any understanding and support of them in general? Moran said NBPC can work with AFGE as a conduit to encourage Trump’s administration “to look at federal employees differently.”