Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a campaign event in Iowa on Monday.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during a campaign event in Iowa on Monday. Patrick Semansky/AP

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Warren Pledges Major Overhaul of Federal Hiring and Ethics Laws

The Democratic presidential contender pledges to use executive branch experience to rebuild the civil service.

The federal government is in need of a total course correction, according to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who pledged this week that as president she would overhaul federal employee hiring and ethics laws. 

With less than two weeks until the first primary votes in the Iowa caucuses, Warren, among the top contenders for the Democratic nomination for president, is making civil service and federal management reforms part of her closing argument. In a newly released policy paper, the senator repeatedly accused President Trump of allowing corruption to run rampant in the executive branch and said she had the direct experience necessary to make immediate changes. 

She highlighted her time standing up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as her seven years in the Senate “studying the intimate details of how the government works,” to explain why she is uniquely qualified to lead all federal agencies. A president, Warren would be “inheriting a government in crisis,” she said, riddled with corruption and incompetence. 

Warren has proposed many fundamental changes to how the government operates, she said, and “achieving this agenda while also addressing the crises that Donald Trump has created will require an energetic president with expertise on how the executive branch works.” 

Among her priorities, she said, would be ensuring agencies have full staffing. All but three Cabinet-level departments have shed jobs under Trump. 

“To implement the kind of big, structural changes I have proposed, we will need to address the substantial vacancies in career civil service positions left behind by the Trump administration,” Warren said, adding, “If our government doesn’t have good people, it can’t perform for the American people.

The senator promised to empower the Office of Personnel Management to award direct hire authority more often, which allows agencies to skip the hoops they must normally jump through when recruiting. She would also direct agencies to use more expedited hiring for veterans and to bring back feds who had left government. Warren would task OPM with ensuring agencies use specific hiring authorities granted to them. 

The presidential candidate would also seek to increase diversity in the federal ranks by boosting recruiting at historically black colleges and universities, creating fellowships that target marginalized communities and creating pathways so more minority employees could climb to executive level positions. She noted the Senior Executive Service specifically has endured a significant number of departures since Trump took office, which drained “the agencies of long-held expertise and institutional knowledge.”

Warren said her experience establishing the consumer protection bureau proved she could accomplish those goals. 

“We recruited a mission-driven staff and set up the organization,” she said, “and it took swift action to protect Americans from financial predators and make financial products safer.”

Warren said she would also place significant restrictions on who could serve in her administration. She promised to enhance existing limits on political appointees who seek to have their jobs converted into career positions, long a concern of new administrations even though it happens infrequently. The senator chastised the Trump administration for allowing nearly 300 lobbyists to serve in its ranks and vowed to end the revolving door between government and private industry.

She called the ethics pledges issued by both presidents Trump and Obama insufficient and promised not to allow any exemptions to her rules. Her administration would not hire from for-profit contractors unless Warren herself signed off and corporate lobbyists would face a six-year ban on serving in government. All senior officials would take a lifetime pledge not to ever lobby in a field related to their government jobs after they leave the federal service. Before serving they would have to divest entirely from any holdings that could create a conflict of interest. 

“The mix of industry insiders and donors has both created turmoil and opened up an opportunity for big businesses to tilt the rules in their favor,” Warren said of the Trump administration. 

The candidate called her vision for rebuilding government “painstaking work,” but vowed to have the fastest transition in history. She said she would name her entire Cabinet by Dec. 1, 2020, and identify candidates for other positions by Inauguration Day. Having people in place quickly would be particularly important, she said, because her incoming administration would not be able to rely on good-faith cooperation from the outgoing Trump administration. 

Warren criticized the president for failing to nominate candidates for a historic number of political positions and for already allowing 28 Cabinet officials to serve in an acting capacity. She set specific prerequisites for several Cabinet positions, including an Education Department secretary who has served as a public school teacher, a Labor Department secretary who has served as a union leader and a Homeland Security Department secretary committed to unwinding Trump’s immigration actions. At least half of her Cabinet would be female or non-binary, Warren said. 

Implementing her agenda would require “cleaning out the corruption that has infected the government, and it means moving immediately to fill key jobs and set up agencies with capable officials committed to putting the public interest first,” she said. 

She also promised retroactive scrutiny of activities conducted under Trump’s watch. She would set up a task force at the Justice Department to investigate potential bribery, insider trading and other violations of anti-corruption laws. Her administration would direct agencies to review contracts issued under Trump for potential conflicts of interest and cancel any that were deemed improper. She also warned she would fire any heads of independent agencies for cause if she decided it were necessary.