AFGE: Trump Plan to Trash Govt. Personnel Agency Would Politicize Civil Service

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Republican President Donald Trump’s plan to abolish the government’s central personnel agency and put most of its authority in the hands of unaccountable White House aides would politicize the U.S. civil service, the head of the largest federal workers union says.

And Government Employees President (AFGE) J. David Cox’s warning got a sympathetic hearing from majority Democrats on the House Government Operations subcommittee on May 21. Panel Republicans gave Trump tepid support, at best.

"The plan to abolish OPM is reckless, ill-conceived, and potentially dangerous,” Cox testified. “It is potentially dangerous because without a separate personnel agency, there is no formal institutional structure to protect and defend the apolitical civil service from an administration intent on politicization.”

Trump wants to abolish the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is in effect the government’s HR department, overseeing its two million workers. He would split its duties between the Executive Office of the President -- within the White House -- and the General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, furniture and supplies.

The new personnel chief would be a White House staffer, unaccountable to Congress, workers, unions or the public for trashing federal workers.

Trump’s scheme, previously hinted at in his budgets, is in line with the hard-right anti-worker ideology and actions of both the right-wing president and his extremist anti-worker advisors, many of them drawn from the notorious Heritage Foundation. Cox noted Trump drew it up without consulting anyone else – including workers and unions -- outside his inner circle.

Besides freezing federal workers’ pay and demanding mass cuts, Trump infamously locked out almost 400,000 federal workers for seven weeks, and forced another 400,000 to toil without pay.

Disregarding the suffering he caused to the feds, their families and their communities, Trump used the lockout in a vain effort to force Congress to kowtow to his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall at the Mexican border. 

One unpaid Transportation Security Officer – an airport screener – depressed because he couldn’t feed his family or pay his bills, jumped to his death from the eighth floor of the Tampa Airport’s interior hotel.

What Trump’s plan wouldn’t do is increase morale among federal workers – thousands of whom have quit in frustration since Trump took over – or improve efficiency. Trump’s plan wouldn’t even save any money, witnesses said, as the feds would have to shell out millions of extra dollars in severance pay to more workers who quit.

Cox added Trump presented “no ‘business case’ or other type of analysis of costs, rationale, or risks of abolishing OPM” and moving its functions into the White House. “It is ill-conceived because there has been no consideration of how the plan would affect the sub-stantive work currently performed by OPM” overseeing federal workers and working conditions.

Ken Thomas, whose National Association of Retired Federal Employees speaks for retirees, agreed. He noted OPM manages their pensions and other benefits gained after a lifetime of working for the public – and politicization would endanger that.

“OPM’s critical mission is managing and promoting our nation’s smart and talented government workforce – a workforce that could be subject to political persecutions and non-merit-based actions” should Trump succeed, Thomas said.

The subcommittee’s majority Democrats agreed.

“This is about the administration’s plan to eliminate the independence of the civil service,” said the chair, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., whose suburban D.C. district includes thousands of civil servants.

“The administration wants to take away merit policy functions and put them into the highly politicized environment of the White House, away from congressional oversight and inspector general review. The administration decided a priori to undermine civil service protections” against politicization “and developed this reorganization to obscure its objective,” he said.

Witnesses touched on the history of the civil service, and the objective of isolating federal workers from depending on party allegiances for their jobs. Republican President Chester Arthur got Congress to establish the first civil service in 1883. It replaced the spoils system.

Though they did not say so, Arthur acted after disgruntled and insane office-seeker Charles Guiteau, irate that Arthur’s predecessor, James Garfield, wouldn’t use spoils to give him a top diplomatic job, fatally shot Garfield in a D.C. train station two years before.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Labor Wins

From the AFL-CIO

On Tuesday, the labor movement drove historic wins for pro-worker candidates like Governor-Elect Andy Beshear in Kentucky and new legislative majorities in Virginia. Not only did union members come out to vote in droves, 270 union member candidates were elected to public office last night and counting. This adds to the total of more than 900 union members elected up and down the ballot in last year’s midterms, a product of the Union Member Candidate Program launched by the AFL-CIO just two years ago. The share of union members who won in the 2018 midterms is two-thirds. The program will continue through 2020 and beyond, electing even more union members to public office. 

“Our efforts recruiting, training and supporting labor candidates have led to the passage of pro-worker legislation from coast to coast and everywhere in between,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

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