Several weeks ago, President Trump took aim at the federal work force by issuing three executive orders to promote “performance and accountability” and put taxpayers first. One order directs agencies to negotiate “better” contracts with federal employee unions, a second limits the time federal employees can spend during their working hours on union business, and a third directs agencies to more quickly terminate federal employees, with less notice and procedural safeguards. Beyond the highly questionable merits of the new executive orders, the hypocrisy of the President’s latest actions should not be lost. By taking aim at the federal rank and file, he is turning a blind eye to those in his administration who truly threaten his purported goal of ensuring that federal employees put the public’s interest above their own: his cabinet heads.
Just consider EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has generated considerable controversy since joining the agency last year. Whether it’s the $3.5 million the EPA spent over the course of just one year to provide him with round-the-clock protection, or the $43,000 soundproof “privacy” phone booth he had built that the Government Accountability Office concluded violated federal law, Pruitt has shown again and again his comfort and personal interests come before those of the agency and public he serves.
Nevertheless, President Trump has refused to fire him. Instead, he seeks to rein in federal employees performing union duties on federal time, and encourages agencies to adopt policies that result in more dismissals for misconduct, while limiting the longstanding protections in the civil service system. Experience at the VA shows this course will fall predominantly on the rank and file, not top officials like Pruitt. A 2017 law that also rolled back civil service protections at the VA resulted in a 60 percent increase in firings in just the latter half of 2017, according to a ProPublica investigation. And just who was fired? ProPublica noted that of the 1,704 employees terminated for misconduct, 1,700 were low-level employees, including 133 housekeepers, 101 nursing assistants, and 59 food service workers.
Consider also Mick Mulvaney, the Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Shortly after his appointment, the CFPB announced it was dropping its years-long investigation of installment lender World Acceptance Corporation, and was considering dropping cases against three payday lenders. Is it just a coincidence that while in Congress, Mulvaney received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from payday lenders? His actions do not seem to reflect the “high standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest” that President Trump, in his executive order “Promoting Accountability and Streamlining Removal Procedures Consistent with Merit System Principles,” dictated for the agency rank and file.
The list goes on, and includes HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who commissioned a dining set for his office at a cost of $31,000, well beyond the $5,000 Congress provides for office decorating, absent advance congressional approval to spend more. Also included is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose penchant for flying on private and military jets has cost the taxpayers nearly one million dollars that his label-loving wife, in a now infamous Instagram post, justified by the amount of taxes they pay and the sacrifices they supposedly have made for their country. By contrast, under federal travel regulations rank and file federal employees must sit in economy class when traveling for work, and union workers must now spend less paid time on union business, while Secretary Mnuchin is allowed to use his time taking in a solar eclipse.
All this brings into sharp focus the hypocrisy of the President’s three executive orders. Yes, the swamp he now controls may be “awash in ‘waste, fraud and abuse’” as he claims, but it stems from the top and the officials he has put in charge. Like the president they serve, those officials seem to view their federal offices primarily as opportunities for personal enrichment and comfort, not service to their country.