Are federal employees “panicked” after a conservative media outlet published names of government executives the outlet believes are hostile to President Trump’s agenda and should be fired? That was the headline of a March 22 story in Politico that cited a Feb. 18 report published in Breitbart News, the former professional perch of Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist.
The Breitbart story listed what it called the top 10 “holdover Obama loyalist bureaucrats President Trump could either fire immediately or remove from their current positions.” What was alarming to some is that six of the 10 were not political appointees, but career civil servants—four at the State Department, one at Health and Human Services and one at the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of HHS. What sins did these public servants commit? They worked, apparently successfully, to implement programs supported by a president—just not this president.
It’s not a secret that the Trump administration is pushing very different policies from the previous administration. But the civil service was established expressly to ensure that government jobs were awarded on merit, not political patronage. While there’s widespread understanding that civil service reforms are needed, too many people conflate the roles of political appointees with those of career employees.
Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, President of the American Foreign Service Association, declined to comment specifically about the Breitbart report and its impact, but said through a spokesman: “The Foreign Service Act of 1980 set up a nonpartisan professional career Foreign Service to carry out the foreign policy priorities of the administration they serve. AFSA firmly believes that no member of the Foreign Service should ever suffer any kind of retaliation for doing exactly what the law calls for.”
Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, said he hasn’t seen evidence the Trump administration is targeting civil servants, despite some early missteps, such as when the transition team requested names of Energy Department employees who had worked on climate change programs. The administration quickly walked the request back, blaming it on staffer who didn’t understand the law.
“Career civil servants are on high alert not to engage in political activity,” Valdez said. They don’t make policy, they implement it, he said. Trump will need them as much as his predecessors to implement his own ambitious agenda.