Senior Republicans prepare to squeeze civil servants’ benefits and protections

By on 25/11/2016 | Updated on 27/01/2022

Republicans in Congress are planning to reduce the size of the federal workforce and push through reforms that will cut pensions, halt automatic pay rises, crack down on publicly-funded union work and make it easier to dismiss staff, the Washington Post reports.

The first pledge laid out in Donald Trump’s contract with the American voter – his action plan for the first 100 days in office released ahead of the US election – was to clean up corruption and special interest in Washington. This, according to Trump’s contract, means “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health)”.

It’s not yet clear how much of Trump’s action plan will become Republican policy, but the party advocates a 10% reduction in the 2m-strong workforce.

In a recent interview with the New Yorker, former House speaker and key Trump advisor Newt Gingrich called on the president-elect to “fire corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest workers” and “end the civil service permanent employment”.

Bill Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said Trump’s plans will be disastrous for the American people.

“Federal employees are directly responsible for providing the services that our nation has come to depend on and often takes for granted,” he told Global Government Forum. “Arbitrary reductions in the federal workforce and attacking their pay, benefits, and pensions will certainly not result in having a motivated, energised workforce, and will make accomplishing the mission of the federal agencies they work for that much more difficult.

“A better strategy would be for the incoming administration to invite federal unions and other stakeholders to the table early on, to discuss matters of joint concern and develop strategies to successfully work on the many challenges we will need to tackle in the coming months and years.”

Donald Kettl, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, told NPR that hiring freezes do not make for better functioning governments, whilst pointing to the lack of a good system for identifying skills and talent at the US federal level.

During the campaign trail Trump consistently attacked state workers. “Waste, fraud and abuse all over the place,” he said, in response to a question on where he would find spending reductions to eliminate the federal deficit. “We will cut so much, your head will spin.”

Earlier this year Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and former leader of Trump’s White House transition team, said the campaign was drawing up a list of federal government employees to fire in the event of a Trump win.

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See also:

What a Trump presidency means for other governments

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UK government allocates over £400m to key Brexit departments

Team Trump – what we know so far

About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

One Comment

  1. Andy says:

    The federal workforce has continued to grow over the decades and has never shrunk from its total size. I’m not sure you’re understanding Gingrich’s influence either. He does not want Romney as Secretary of State but Romney is a leading candidate. Trump makes the decisions. Gingrich is not the President.

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