New Complaint Alleges White House Official Violated Civil Service Laws in Threatening to Purge Disloyal Feds
Comments violated three provisions of Title 5 of the U.S. Code meant to maintain a non-partisan civil service, group says.
A watchdog group has filed a complaint to an independent oversight agency alleging a White House official broke the law when he suggested the Trump administration will fire any federal employees not sufficiently loyal to President Trump.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley violated three provisions of Title Five of the U.S. Code established to maintain a non-partisan civil service when he made the comments on Fox News, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said in its complaint filed with the Office of Special Counsel. The comments amounted to a “loyalty litmus test as a condition for federal civil service,” PEER said.
The administration is examining employees throughout the government to find anyone taking action officials decide represents an effort to undermine Trump, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox News last week. Gidley did not specifically mention career employees, who are statutorily protected against political retaliation, but did note the “millions” of individuals agencies employ. By contrast, there are only about 4,000 political appointees in government.
“It’s not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him, and too often we have people in this government—I mean the federal government is massive, with millions of people—and there are a lot people out there taking action against this president and when we find them we will take appropriate action,” Gidley said.
Gidley’s comments specifically violated provisions in civil service laws that prohibit the coercion of political activity, discrimination against employees for non-performance based conduct and personnel actions taken for partisan political purposes, the complaint alleges.
“Mr. Gidley’s statements appear as thinly veiled coercion that federal employees should not express any opposition to Mr. Trump or his candidacy for re-election,” PEER said.
Gidley’s comments followed reports in Axios that the administration maintains “deep state” hit lists of employees to fire and the president has tasked the head of the Presidential Personnel Office, Johnny McEntee, to purge “bad people” who are not loyal to him. The latter report mentioned only political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the president and can be dismissed at will, but Gidley’s comments appeared to go further.
“Time and time again we see in the media reports from people in the bowels of the federal government working against this president,” he said.
An OSC spokesman confirmed the agency received the complaint but declined to comment further. Gidley did not respond to a request for comment.
PEER requested that OSC review the statements and recommend disciplinary action, seek a public statement from the White House that it “will not subject federal civil servants to non-merit based discriminations,” and provide Gidley and other White House staff with training on protecting merit principles in government.
“This is a threat clearly directed against civil servants,” said Tim Whitehouse, PEER’s executive director. “The creation of the federal civil service was one of the major governmental reforms of the 19th century, but today we seem to be teetering on the edge of a return to the political spoils system.”