“Most people are pretty somber,” says Antoinette Henry, a long-time employee at the Housing and Urban Development Department. “They’re either quiet or manic.”
Henry has worked as a career civil servant for 33 years. She had planned to stay at the department and apply for a promotion, as her boss recently left federal service. When President Trump took office, however, those plans changed.
“I think I’m going to go,” she said. “There’s too much uncertainty.”
Henry is not alone. In interviews with Government Executive, federal employees across government -- speaking in their private capacities -- said they had become too disheartened to continue in public service. In a post-election Government Business Council/GovExec.com survey of the federal workforce, about one in four employees said they were considering leaving their jobs. Many have now decided to follow through.
One employee who has worked at the Bureau of Land Management for three decades said she is counting down the days until she becomes eligible for retirement.
“I can’t get out the door fast enough,” she said, adding that she is not alone. Some of her colleagues are “going to get out as soon as they can,” while others are going to stick it out for two months and then leave if their outlook has not improved.
Some of the BLM employee's frustrations pre-date the Trump administration, but the policies it has voiced so far have breached her breaking point.
“It’s going to be 'drill baby drill,' ” she said. “We won’t be a conservation agency anymore.” Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department, has said he would like to see more energy production on federal lands.
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Liz Appratto, a Veterans Affairs Department employee in Orlando, Fla., said she is not planning to leave. Her commitment to serving veterans, she said, outweighs her unhappiness with the election results.
“It’s something we’re going to have to come together on and put our country ahead of our feelings and try to make the best of what we can,” Appratto said.
Not all of her co-workers feel that way, however. “A lot of people I know are looking for other positions,” she said. “I know they’re looking at the outside to see what might be available.”
John Kelly, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supervisor in Honolulu, Hawaii, said he has seen enough from the Trump administration to know he does not want to be a part of it.
“I was going to hang for a little bit longer, but now I am trying to finish up,” Kelly said. “I want out. I just want to get out.”
Other employees are less certain, but are keeping their eyes open for other options. One Transportation Department employee working in quality control said if he received a compelling offer in the private sector, “Yes, I would definitely consider leaving.” Dennis Demay, who worked for 24 years as a wage hour investigator at the Labor Department and now works fully on official time representing members of the American Federation of Government Employees union, said his members are waiting to see what attacks the White House and members of Congress aim at the federal workforce.
“They may say, ‘This isn’t worth it. I’m gone,’” Demay said.
Of course, most of the federal workforce will be sticking around. James Hawekotte, an Internal Revenue Service employee, was encouraged by the election results. He noted change will come slowly, but was hopeful some of Trump’s business experience would have a positive affect on the bureaucracy.
Greg Davis, an employee at the National Labor Relations Board, said Trump has set the wrong tone on issues ranging from ethics to appointees to anti-regulatory policies. He worried the administration would embolden employers to violate the law. Still, he vowed to continue his work.
“We do our job,” Davis said. “We hope the leadership is responsive to the needs of the public.”
An Air Force manager who voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and then supported Hillary Clinton during the general election, said he was nonetheless encouraged by some of Trump’s actions since the election. Newly sworn-in Defense Secretary James Mattis will be a “moderating influence” on Trump, the employee said. While this manager will soon be eligible to retire, he doesn't plan to, in part because he anticipates an influx of resources at the Pentagon.
“We’re not going to be shut down,” he said. “If anything, we’re going to have more work to do.”
Kelly, the NOAA employee of more than four decades who will soon leave federal service, said the agency will easily survive his departure. More problematic, he explained, is that the young employees he supervises and who bring creativity and energy to their positions no longer want to work in government. They have told him their public service is starting to feel like a “waste of time,” and they do not want to work for a government that “thinks its workers are not worthy.”
“I talk to my young staff and I say, ‘You have to hang in there,’” Kelly said. “'You guys are our future. You need to step up to the plate.’”