The Washington Post reports that some federal workers are “in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can to to push back against the new president’s initiatives.” In addition, “180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.”
One Justice Department employee told the Post that “through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.” This employee says that he and his colleagues have been planning to slow their work. Indeed, the Post finds that “the resistance is so early, so widespread, and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs.”
Trying to undermine Republican administration policies by leaking to the press is a longstanding practice here in Washington. The problem for disgruntled bureaucrats in the Age of Trump is that leaks to the Washington Post (where most leakers turn first) will be so numerous that the paper won’t have room to air most of them. Moreover, these stories may become too tiresome to sting.
Refusing to obey orders and/or engaging in work slowdowns are different. These practices, if at all common, would tend to undermine the Trump administration.
The Trump administration’s response should be the one it gave Sally Yates: “You’re fired.”
Yates was a presidential appointee and thus had no protection against removal. Ordinary government workers have civil service protection and this, I imagine, is a substantial part of what they are being told at resistance workshops.
But the Trump administration shouldn’t hesitate to sack bureaucrats who don’t obey orders and/or who engage in work slowdowns. Let them seek redress, and in the meantime see to it that their work assignments are carried out expeditiously by employees willing to follow orders.
An alternative, particularly in the case of bureaucrats who slow down, is to reassign them to positions where it doesn’t matter how hard they work. I’d prefer firing them, but it’s probably true that bureaucrats have less protection from reassignment than from discharge, making the former a less risky solution.
As I said, bureaucratic resistance to GOP administrations is nothing new. In 1972, I had a summer job in a research shop at what was then called the Department of Health, Education, and Labor. Our unit spent that summer performing research intended to show that a certain Nixon administration health program wasn’t needed or wouldn’t work (I forget which).
I was as anti-Nixon as anyone, but this work seemed odd even to me.
Such forms of “resistance,” though sickening, are largely meaningless. Refusal to carry out instructions and/or slowing down their execution is serious. The Trump administration shouldn’t tolerate these practices
In fact, it should consider fighting back through more than just individual disciplinary action. If the administration justifiably concludes that the federal bureaucracy as a whole is resisting its initiatives, it might respond by proposing an across-the-board federal pay cut and/or a reduction-in-force. If it concludes that particular agencies are non-compliant, it could target those agencies.
The threat of lower pay and/or layoffs might create an environment in which bureaucratic resistance to the president would be resisted.