Donald Trump took aim on Wednesday at the very existence of a nonpartisan, highly expert federal government workforce of people working for the good of the United States rather than the personal benefit of a president. Trump signed an executive order that, if it ever goes fully into effect, would strip civil service protections from tens of thousands of federal workers, effectively imposing a political loyalty test on people who have long been outside of politics.
Trump’s order would affect any federal worker whose work involves policymaking. That means public health experts, attorneys, scientists, and more—people with specialized knowledge and long experience of complicated problems facing the U.S. Like, for instance, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a career civil servant rather than a political appointee. We’ve seen through the coronavirus pandemic how Trump has tried to replace public health expertise with his whims and partisan interests, and now he’s trying to make it official, throughout the government.
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Trump’s order calls for agencies to determine which jobs would be affected by January 19, the day before the inauguration, and it’s the latest in a long line of moves against federal workers’ labor rights. Not only would workers who are already in this category lose protections, including the right to be in a union, but hiring for such roles would no longer be conducted under competitive procedures.
“It’s an attempt to redefine the civil service as a political arm of the presidency rather than public servants who work for the American people,” Rep. Don Beyer told The Washington Post, calling the plan “open cronyism that does not benefit the country, but the president.”
“The effect and the apparent intent is that they are moving them into that box” of being like political appointees, said the Partnership for Public Service’s Max Stier. “The discretion for both hiring and firing is so great that the merit principles are undermined and they resemble a political appointee much more than a career civil servant.”
Trump continues to try to make the federal government into his own personal fiefdom, loyal to him and aimed at supporting his political interests rather than the public good. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how dangerous that kind of approach can be. The fact that he’s moving on this now is yet another warning of just how bad a second Trump term would be—more evidence that U.S. democratic institutions absolutely would not survive.