Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said relocating more federal jobs outside of Washington is proving an effective way to get people to leave government service.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said relocating more federal jobs outside of Washington is proving an effective way to get people to leave government service. Evan Vucci/AP

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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney took disdain for the nation’s civil servants to a whole new level, says a federal union leader.

It is no longer shocking when a high ranking official in this administration speaks disparagingly about federal employees. The federal workforce has been under siege for more than two years with derisive words and harmful actions: proposals to freeze pay, cut retirement benefits and gut contracts, plus government shutdowns, bad faith bargaining and executive orders to weaken their rights. 

But when Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney spoke at a political event in South Carolina on Aug. 2, he took the disdain and disrespect for our nation’s civil servants to a whole new level.

Mulvaney has now clearly stated, as administration policy, that relocating federal employees from one city to another is intended to disrupt their lives to the point that they quit their jobs. 

The loss of skilled, experienced federal employees is not an unfortunate side effect of agency reorganizations: it is the whole point, according to Mulvaney.

In his speech, Mulvaney, who also serves as the Office of Management and Budget director, declared recent office relocations at the Agriculture Department are a success not because they will help carry out the agency’s mission or provide better service to taxpayers. No, Mulvaney gleefully recounted that under the agency’s move-or-quit policy, many employees decided against uprooting their families and relocating hundreds of miles away.

“What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government,” Mulvaney said.

Rather, what a wonderful way to denigrate men and women who have committed their careers to public service. What a wonderful way to discourage young people from considering a rewarding job protecting the nation, safeguarding the economy or promoting the public health. What a wonderful way to treat your fellow human beings.

The pretense for these reorganizations was already thin. Hollow claims of moving employees closer to the Americans they serve conveniently ignores that 80 percent of the entire federal workforce already lives and works outside the Washington, D.C., metro area. When Mulvaney said he wants to move federal employees “outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move (them) out into the real part of the country,” I’m not really sure what he’s talking about. 

The record-setting partial government shutdown this year was a national crisis precisely because federal employees are in every state and community across the country, serving their neighbors and fellow taxpayers. Not including military and postal workers, there are more than 21,000 federal employees in Mulvaney’s home state of South Carolina. 

Federal employees take the same oath of office as everyone at the White House, but importantly, they get their jobs based on merit, not political affiliation. And unlike the political appointees, when federal employees show up to work, the law requires that they leave their personal politics—liberal, conservative and in-between—at the door. 

Federal employees have suspected all along that various office relocations were designed solely to chase them out of federal service and indiscriminately reduce the size of the workforce, but I was reluctant to join in such speculation.

Not anymore. The next time a federal agency notifies our union that an employee’s reassignment or relocation, or that an agency’s reorganization or restructuring is critical to providing government services, we will roll the tape of Mulvaney’s remarks and challenge whether it is even necessary. 

Federal employees are essential to this democracy, not expendable.

Tony Reardon is national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents employees in 33 different federal agencies and departments.