This week, The New Yorker published a report hypothesizing what President Donald Trump’s first term in office might look like. Evan Osnos interviewed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who’s been advising the candidate on policy matters, about what to expect if Trump actually takes the White House.
Gingrich told Osnos that he’s encouraged Trump to start a war over job security for federal employees. Conservatives have long bemoaned how difficult it can be to fire government workers. According to The New Yorker, Gingrich seems convinced that attacking job protections for civil servants would be a worthwhile opening battle, both as policy and as politics. Per Osnos:
Gingrich told me that he is urging Trump to give priority to an obscure but contentious conservative issue—ending lifetime tenure for federal employees. This would also galvanize Republicans and help mend rifts in the Party after a bitter election.
“Getting permission to fire corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest workers—that’s the absolute showdown,” Gingrich said. He assumes that federal employees’ unions would resist, thus producing, in his words, an “ongoing war” similar to the conflict that engulfed Madison, Wisconsin, in 2011, when Governor Scott Walker moved to limit public-sector employees’ collective-bargaining rights.
Gingrich predicted that federal employee unions would become “unglued” in such a war.
For a reality TV celebrity whose fame grew out of firing people, this would seem like a logical fight to pick after settling into the West Wing. Trump, however, doesn’t appear to have discussed this particular issue on the trail, and his official website makes no reference to it. A campaign spokesperson didn’t respond to an email asking if Trump would seek to roll back job protections for federal employees.
A representative for Gingrich didn’t respond to an interview request on the subject, either.
Job security is one of the main benefits to a federal job, and Gingrich is correct that federal employee unions would fight bitterly to maintain it. But contrary to what Gingrich suggests, it is possible to fire federal employees when they misbehave or don’t do their jobs. It just isn’t as easy as firing a private-sector worker.
The law gives federal workers certain protections, including due process when the boss wants to can them and the chance to turn around their work if they’re underperforming. They’re given those rights, in part, to protect against politically motivated firings. Typically, a fraction of a percent of the federal workforce gets fired each year.
Tony Reardon, the president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers across 30 agencies, noted in an email to HuffPost that federal employees can be fired for cause. That they can’t, he said, “is a false statement repeated to gain easy political points.” NTEU endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, as did the American Federation of Government Employees, the other large federal employee union.
“While it is not clear that Congressman Gingrich and Mr. Trump are trying to find a way to fire those they simply don’t like, it would behoove them to become educated on the basics of civil service law,” Reardon said. “Federal employees give much to this country and deserve at least candidates and advisors who understand a little bit about how their employment works.”
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