Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com

Trump Team’s Energy Questions Stir Fears of Retaliation Against Civil Servants

Lawmakers, scientists warn president-elect against politically-motivated personnel actions.

Friday’s revelation that the Trump transition team had sent a 74-item questionnaire to Energy Department employees asking about their work on climate change has prompted warnings of possible civil service law violations from lawmakers.

The Trump request, first reported by Bloomberg and Politico, is also being monitored by science associations and the Senior Executives Association.

The questionnaire, addressed to specific offices within Energy such as the Energy Information Administration, asks for such information as the identities of scientists who attended conferences on climate change and a list of all boards, commissions and working groups active in the department. Another asked, “Renewable and solar technologies are expected to need additional transmission costs above what fossil technologies need. How has EIA represented this in . . . forecasts?”

Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., on Saturday wrote to Trump personally saying:

“This request suggests your administration may intend to retaliate against career employees who faithfully executed their responsibilities, an action that would violate federal law.” He warned that “politically motivated employment decisions will erode the foundation of an apolitical civil service,” vowing that “If any of this information is used to demote, sideline, terminate or otherwise discriminate against federal civil servants whose only ‘crime’ was to execute the lawful policy directives of their supervisors, then your administration would violate U.S. law that protects employees from wrongful acts of retaliation.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also on Saturday released a statement saying he was “alarmed” by the questionnaire. “This raises serious concerns as to the motivation of such a request and raises questions of possible retribution for following President Obama's policies,” he said.

"It also raises questions as to whether or not the Trump Administration intends to pursue their policy objectives without considering the substantive work and opinions of those who are charged with the responsibility of developing and implementing energy policy,” Hoyer added.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science said the questionnaire “has understandably raised concerns about respect for scientific integrity and the potential for targeting of individuals based on scientific findings. The purpose of transition teams is to gather information about each department and agency to ensure continuity of operations. Given that this is an isolated event, we assume that these questions are being asked in the spirit of gathering accurate information and critically evaluating the evidence for policy decisions, but we will monitor these actions as the transition moves forward.”

Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, confirmed to Government Executive that the questionnaire “got lots of attention” in the individual offices targeted by the query.

“Presumably they’re all working very hard on those responses,” he said. But there is “civil service protection and also whistleblower protection,” he added. “All the career people are doing is following the president’s direction, and they will follow the new president’s direction—within existing laws, regulations and ethical considerations.”

Image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com.

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