On Sunday, Hillary Clinton did what everyone seemed to know she would do for quite some time: she officially made herself a candidate for president in the 2016 election.
Clinton’s long-awaited foray into the race gives the evolving campaign its loudest advocate of public servants to date, and perhaps the biggest champion of the federal workforce of any candidate likely to jump in. The former secretary of State supervised 20,000 civilian employees in her last job, and in her role as senator created a record largely supportive of federal workers.
While the major tenets of her campaign remain unclear, her 25 years in public life has created a preview of what her potential presidency could mean for the federal workforce.
An Effective Workforce
In Clinton’s book Hard Choices released last year, she wasted no time praising the civil servants who worked for her. The memoirs of her time at State were dedicated to “America’s diplomats and development experts, who represent our country and our values so well in places large and small, peaceful and perilous all over the world.”
She later wrote of the scene when she delivered her farewell speech the day she left her post in 2012.
“Filling the large lobby were so many people I had come to love and respect,” Clinton wrote. “I was glad they would continue serving the United States with intelligence, persistence and courage.”
Clinton’s admiration for the federal workforce did not begin with her time at State. In her last bid for the presidency, she called for reducing the size of the contractor workforce by 500,000 employees and advocated for the effectiveness of federal workers.
“We need to get rid of all the contracting out of government jobs, which has really undermined the quality of services,” Clinton said in a primary debate in 2007.
In 2008, Clinton introduced a bill in the Senate to require the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to identify “inherently governmental functions” being performed by contractors and make plans to instead staff those functions with federal employees.
Clinton’s boldest idea to improve and support the civilian workforce came before the election season was in full swing. In 2006, she proposed the creation of the “public service academy,” which would function similar to military academies but instead create civilian workers. Just like the military academies, applicants would need a recommendation from members of Congress or the president to apply, and would agree to a certain number of years to work in public service as a condition of admittance. Tuition for the students would be fully subsidized.
“Let’s start sending young people to school to serve America in another way,” Clinton said in support of the measure in 2007, when she proposed creating the academy for a second time.
Willingness to Tap Benefits
While overhauling the U.S. health care system is seen as President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, it was Clinton who made health reforms the major tenet of her first presidential bid. In a move that went against the interests of the federal workforce, Clinton proposed giving all Americans without employer-sponsored health care the option of enrolling in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.
Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the creation of the federal and state-based “Obamacare” insurance marketplaces, that idea is largely null and void in Clinton’s second go round. The proposal does indicate, however, a willingness to tap into federal employees’ benefits to satisfy a larger policy agenda.
Clinton’s other positions have been much more beneficial for federal workers. In 2007, she advocated giving all federal employees paid parental leave, a position Obama recently adopted as well.
“I also want to make the federal government a model workplace by providing paid parental leave,” Clinton said at a campaign stop that year. “For a relatively modest cost, we can provide that to all federal employees.”
During her time at State, Clinton advocated for benefits for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender employees. She was early to extend the full array of federal benefits to the same-sex spouses of foreign diplomats. She protected against gender-based discrimination in State’s hiring, and under her leadership the U.S. Agency for International Development became the first federal agency to publish a recruiting brochure aimed at the LGBT community.
During her Senate tenure, she co-sponsored a bill to make all same-sex domestic partners of federal workers eligible for government-sponsored benefits. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, lifted the ban on security clearances for LGBT employees during his administration, and signed an executive order outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal workplace. But it was the recent striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act—backed by Bill Clinton—that enabled legally married same-sex couples to share federal benefits.
Hillary Clinton also has supported measures to boost benefits for military personnel. A bill she helped pass into law granted reservists not on active duty access to the military health system.
Clinton's book, Hard Choices, provides some insights into her management style.
The importance of personal relationships was a major theme Clinton discussed. Whereas Obama has received criticism for his distance from lawmakers and, until recently, his top career leaders in government, Clinton seems to embrace direct contact.
Former Haitian President Rene Preval once told State Department staff Clinton was the only outsider he trusted. “It was a reminder of how important personal relationships can be, even at the highest levels of diplomacy and government,” Clinton wrote.
Clinton also wrote of the value of communication, especially as it relates to governmental public outreach. She bragged about the number of social media accounts the State Department developed in her time as secretary, as well as the languages and followers they sustained. In 2006, then Sen. Clinton introduced the Federal Interoperable Communications and Safety Act, which would have created the Office of Communications within DHS. The idea was to boost the lines of dialogue among various levels of government and with the public.
Whether Clinton’s fed-friendly past will make its way into her campaign is yet to be seen.