When the White House announced its government reorganization proposal last month, it was met with skepticism among federal employee advocates, who said the plan was a veiled effort to slash services and the workers who provide them.
“There’s little reason to believe this reorganization plan is anything more than a scheme to eliminate essential programs and public-service jobs, reward or punish political appointees depending on their allegiance to the White House and privatize government programs to reward political donors,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“This administration has said all along that its stated goal is to shrink the size of the federal government and its workforce, so our union will be prepared to fight on Capitol Hill to keep trained and dedicated employees in service to the public,” said Tony Reardon, head of the National Treasury Employees Union.
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Those concerns were well founded when considering the task with which the Trump administration charged federal agencies. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney's memorandum to initiate the reorganization process was titled “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce.” It specifically asked agencies to come up with long- and short-term plans to shed employees.
The White House, however, has pushed back on the idea that the proposal wound up in the reorganization plan. OMB Deputy Director for Management Margaret Weichert said job cuts did not factor into the decision making while the administration was putting together the proposals.
“The objective of this exercise was to focus on aligning our resources to pursue what our federal employees want us to pursue, which is the mission first, service to the American people and fiscal stewardship,” Weichert said when the plan was unveiled. “It was not an attempt to cut jobs.”
The White House reiterated that sentiment in a statement this week.
“The administration’s proposal to reorganize the federal government is intended to simplify the way that Americans interact with agencies and refocus the workforce to meet the needs of taxpayers in the digital age,” a senior administration official said. “The notion that it is to reduce the number of federal [workers] is simply untrue and misleading.”
The official went on to praise the work of the civil service.
“Our talented and dedicated public servants—60 percent of whom are eligible to retire within 10 years, and 40 percent in 3 years—work each and every day to deliver on mission, service, and stewardship for the American people,” the official said.
Some employees may find themselves out of work by virtue of evolving missions, Weichert has conceded. Several White House proposals would privatize federal agencies or shrink their functions.
“Changing, and moving, and identifying efficiencies may in fact dislocate employees,” she said last month.
She elaborated on those thoughts in recent congressional testimony, saying the Trump administration will look to retrain current employees conducting work deemed obsolete to make them qualified for more critical positions.
“We do not disdain that workforce,” Weichert said. “We applaud the work that workforce does.” She added: “What we do not have is too many federal employees.”