Critics Decry Trump Order That Makes Firing Federal Workers Easier The executive order strips protections for thousands of federal workers. The administration says it's needed to get rid of "poor performers," but critics call it an attack on nonpolitical employees.
NPR logo

'A Huge Attack': Critics Decry Trump Order That Makes Firing Federal Workers Easier

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/929597578/929802887" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'A Huge Attack': Critics Decry Trump Order That Makes Firing Federal Workers Easier

'A Huge Attack': Critics Decry Trump Order That Makes Firing Federal Workers Easier

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/929597578/929802887" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump has a new executive order that could fundamentally restructure the federal workforce. It would make it easier for the government to fire thousands of federal workers while also allowing political and other considerations to affect hiring. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The executive order would affect the professional employees in the federal workforce - lawyers and scientists - people who are in policymaking positions at the very top of the civil service. They are not political appointees. They stay from administration to administration. The president's order changes that, creating a new category for them and taking away their civil service protections. It means they can be easily replaced - fired.

Rachel Greszler, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, which supports the order, calls it a common sense change to address a lack of accountability in the federal government.

RACHEL GRESZLER: I've talked to managers in the past who say that they want to do the right thing and they want to hold workers accountable, they want to get rid of the bad apples, but ultimately, the managers said they often gave up because they had to spend so much time and so much effort, it just wasn't worth it. They determined it was better to just keep these people on the payrolls and ship their job responsibilities to others. And that's a big problem.

NAYLOR: But public employee unions say it's Trump's order that's the problem.

JACQUELINE SIMON: It's a huge attack on the apolitical civil service.

NAYLOR: That's Jacqueline Simon, the policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents federal workers. She says the order could mean these top positions would no longer be filled by people who have been hired through a competitive process.

J SIMON: If it's implemented broadly, it could create absolute chaos in the agencies. It could be an absolute fiasco. Everyone's seen what happens if this administration tries to politicize scientific work. We've seen it in CDC, and we've seen it in the Weather Service. We've seen it at EPA. We've seen it all across the agencies. Imagine every single agency undermined by political hacks.

NAYLOR: The Trump administration has railed against federal workers since taking office, baselessly charging there's a deep state within the bureaucracy working to thwart Trump's policies. Paul Light, a professor of public service at NYU, says most recent presidents have tried to reform the federal workforce. But he says Trump has taken it to a new level.

PAUL LIGHT: We started with a hiring freeze. We segued into a shutdown. I think the net effect is really on undermining commitment within the federal workforce and just giving feds a good Halloween scare that is likely to be overturned, but they won't forget.

NAYLOR: Light says the net result is to make a career in the federal government less appealing at a time when many government employees are nearing retirement age. The executive order has already had one impact. It prompted the resignation of Ron Sanders, the chairman of the Federal Salary Council. Sanders, a lifelong Republican, told NPR he believes the U.S. civil service is the best in the world.

ROB SANDERS: It's absolutely critical because of the complexity of that world - the laws, the rules and regulations, the scientific theories, all of the things that go into public policy. Somebody has to understand that. You can't look at the Cliffs Notes and get it. You need people with deep technical expertise who are there, regardless of party, who provide neutral competence to whoever is in power.

NAYLOR: The executive order calls on federal agencies to make a list of positions that would be affected by the new classification by January 19, the day before Inauguration Day. What happens next depends on who's sworn in on January 20. It's likely that Democrat Joe Biden would overturn the order if elected. Democrats in Congress say they'll work to nullify the order, and it's being challenged in court. Brian Naylor, NPR News.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.