‘Uncertain’ Describes Federal Workers Today

The author says that the Trump administration’s approach to government is causing great uncertainty among Federal workers.

While every change in Presidential administration brings a level of uncertainty, the long and difficult transition from the Obama to the Trump administration has set up a prolonged era of uncertainty and anxiety for career Federal employees.

The anxiety comes down to three factors: (1) the slowness of filling political appointee positions resulting in leadership voids at Federal agencies, (2) unclear plans for the “reform” of the Federal government that may translate into large job losses, and (3) continued delays in transforming campaign rhetoric into government policy leading to a lack of day-to-day direction.

Political Positions Go Unfilled

According Business Insider, “Nearly 100 days into his term, President Donald Trump hasn’t nominated anyone for 85% of key executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation. Of the 554 positions requiring confirmation, [as of April 22] 473 have no nominee, 35 have been announced but not formally nominated, 24 have been nominated, and just 22 have been confirmed thus far.”

The President has indicated that he might not fill all the appointee positions. In February, President Trump told Fox News, “When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs.”

But no one knows which jobs might be abolished, and which might suddenly have an appointee walk in the door and expect to take charge of their program.

Executive Order: Reform or Just Reductions

While the Presidential Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch states that the goal is to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability” of agencies, others believe the goal is only to reduce the size of the Federal workforce, even if the result is a less effective government.

Some people, like Jason Miller, executive editor of Federal News Radio, seem willing to take OMB Director Mick Mulvaney’s word that the reorganization order is not focused on workforce cuts.

“If you can make your case that you need more people, then you should be able to make that case. It is not an automatic cut 10 percent here and cut 5 percent there and cut 3 percent there. At least again, publicly, they are saying all the right words,” said Mr. Miller on a recent broadcast.

Others take a more skeptical viewpoint.

During that same broadcast, NARFE Legislative Director Jessica Klement stated that “When you do something like develop a long-term workforce reduction plan, it’s not coming from a place of efficiency. It’s coming from a commonly held yet inaccurate belief that the Federal workforce has grown exponentially over the Obama administration years. Not the case.”

“And when you start the process by trying to define how many Federal employees ‘should be’ you’re not going to find more efficiencies. You are going to end up creating inefficiencies,” she added.

Ultimately, any large-scale government reorganization will depend on Congressional approval, which can be problematic even with a Republican-controlled House and Senate.

Taking Trump at His Word

The Administration’s success at turning campaign rhetoric into action has been spotty.

Of the 38 actions that Donald Trump promised to achieve during his first 100 days in office, the Associated Press has determined that 2 have not been kept, 15 have not been started, 11 are in progress, and 10 are complete.

Granted some of these, such as his promise to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, are dependent on Congress, but it is also true that some activities counted by AP as “in progress” are only requests for more reviews and reports of campaign-promised actions that postpone actual decisions until a later date.

Political observers are calling into question whether President Trump’s words are meant to be roadmaps for his actions or just bargaining chips in protracted negotiations.

A Positive View of the First 100 Days

Make no mistake. Many voters who supported Donald Trump’s presidential race welcome uncertainty in the Federal government, which they hope will cause Federal paralysis and act as a curb on what they see as a corrupt and abusive government.

They believe that the stress now being felt by Federal employees is justice for years of what they perceive as an overpaid, arrogant, and under-performing workforce, and they are willing to give him more time to fulfill his campaign promises.

If you had to choose one word to describe the attitude among Federal workers today, what would it be?

About the Author

Michael Wald is a public affairs consultant and writer based in the Atlanta area. He specializes in topics related to government and labor issues. Prior to his retirement from the U.S. Department of Labor, he served as the agency’s Southeast Regional Director of Public Affairs and Southeast Regional Economist.