How Many Federal Employees Will President Trump Fire?

How Many Federal Employees Will President Trump Fire?

Park Ranger Anthony Bates talks with students about career opportunities with the National Park Service at a career fair at Selma High School on February 13, 2015 in Selma, Alabama.

SourceAnne Hermes/Getty

Why you should care

Because “you’re fired” may not just be a punch line in Donald Trump’s administration.

President-elect Donald Trump has terminated a lot of his employees through the years, and he’s proud of it. As New Jersey governor and Trump transition team head Chris Christie reportedly put it to Republican donors during a closed-door meeting at the party’s convention in July: “As you know from his other career, Donald likes to fire people.”

So what happens when you take a man who has made “you’re fired” a personal calling card and put him at the head of an organization that would be the world’s biggest company — the U.S. federal government and its more than 2.7 million civilian employees? Well, if you take surrogates like Christie at their word, then the federal workforce has a big giant bull’s-eye on it among those planning the transition to a Trump White House. Could the incoming Trump administration be the one to finally realize the long-held conservative dream of reining in “Big Government”?

The Trump transition team is already making a list of federal employees to fire …

Rick Perry may have forgotten the three governmental agencies he wanted to eliminate during his famous 2012 debate “oops” moment, but the former Texas governor is far from the only GOP presidential candidate with an ambition to shrink the size of the federal workforce. Among other things, the 2016 Republican Party platform calls for “personnel procedures to expedite the firing of bad workers, tax cheats and scammers.” But does that mean Trump will follow suit? “I don’t think anyone knows a lot about his views on the federal government,” says William R. Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), a union representing more than 100,000 government workers across the U.S. He notes that Trump’s unpredictability injects a higher level of volatility into forecasting the matter.

Trump himself has vowed to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, but has largely been silent on the federal workforce, outside of promising to triple the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Still, there are plenty of tea leaves to read when predicting his likely approach to the issue as president. For one, there is Christie’s promise to donors that the Trump transition team is already making a list of federal employees to fire and will not only push to purge the government of the Obama administration’s appointees, but also press Congress to revamp civil service laws to make it easier to can federal employees. “One of the things I have suggested to Donald is that we have to immediately ask the Republican Congress to change the civil service laws,” Reuters reported Christie saying during the closed-door meeting. “Because if they do, it will make it a lot easier to fire those people.” (The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.)

Reforming such laws to end life tenure for federal employees has long been an important issue to another one of Trump’s close advisers, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “Getting permission to fire corrupt, incompetent and dishonest workers — that’s the absolute showdown,” Gingrich recently told The New Yorker, suggesting that such an effort would also help Trump mend fences with the party establishment.

With Trump getting elected alongside a Republican House and Senate, such a prospect looks even more likely. In such a scenario, “I do believe you would see the annihilation of a lot of government services,” Jeffrey David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union in the United States, told OZY prior to Trump’s election win, as well as the downsizing of most federal agencies, apart from ICE. Both Cox and Dougan believe that given Trump’s modus operandi in the private sector, you would see an attempt to move toward federal workers who are at-will employees, combined with lots of private contractors and shadow employees.

And when you add to that possibility the fact that Trump will have the power to name around 4,000 political appointees, and that droves of federal workers may leave the Trump administration of their own accord (perhaps as many as 25 percent, according to a Government Business Council survey), then the resulting federal workforce could be a far more politicized one than exists today. Which is good if you’re a president who could be facing massive resistance from career civil servants who feel your policies violate the spirit of the agencies they serve.

Several obstacles, however, stand in the way of such a scenario. Dougan contends that passing civil service reform legislation is “a very heavy lift no matter what the makeup of Congress is.” And in the meantime, existing collective bargaining agreements will also remain in place, not to mention constitutional-guaranteed rights of due process that prevent federal employees from being fired without just cause and that allow them to unionize. Such protections, says Cox, are important to prevent the politicization of the federal workforce, not to mention to preserve the government services they provide and that millions of Americans depend upon.

So even though government workers may be shielded from the full force of the Apprentice-like proclivities and whims of their new commander in chief, come next year, a good percentage of them may find that his grand attempt to Make America Great Again may not be one that requires their services.

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