Trump’s budget: federal staff braced for layoffs

By on 17/03/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
President Trump aims to shrink the “bloated federal bureaucracy” in his Budget today. (Image courtesy Michael Vadon)

Donald Trump’s first Budget as president of the United States may, characteristically, lack detail – but for federal government employees the writing is now clearly on the wall.

Billed as a Budget to shrink the “bloated federal bureaucracy”, it doesn’t set out specific workforce reductions but does introduce a $54bn (£44bn or €50bn) boost for the military. This is to be paid for by slashing the budgets of 12 of the 15 government departments, and by eliminating funding for 19 arm’s length bodies.

The biggest winners in yesterday’s announcement are defence – with a 10% budget increase – plus homeland security and veterans’ affairs. The biggest losers are the Environmental Protection Agency, with a 31% funding cut, and the State and Labor departments.

“The defense and public safety spending increases in this budget blueprint are offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government,” says Trump in his introduction to the Budget document.

“Our budget blueprint insists on $54bn in reductions to non-defense programs. We are going to do more with less, and make the government lean and accountable to the people.”

Previewing the Budget, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney, told press that he couldn’t give any details about reductions to the federal workforce, as departments would be given “a great deal of discretion” in administering cuts.

He did, however, say that it would be difficult to make budget cuts on the scale of those proposed without laying off staff, and that the budget aims to “to shrink the role of government, drive efficiencies, go after waste [and] duplicative programs”.

Trade unions, including the American Federation of Government Employees – the largest federal employee union – have been highly critical. AFGE national president J David Cox said the cuts will have “devastating and lasting consequences on the nation”.

He added: “The severity of the budget cuts proposed by president Trump could require mass layoffs of employees at federal departments and agencies, although the budget blueprint released by the White House does not detail how many federal employees could lose their jobs.”

The Budget also details plans to make better use of data to identify poorly performing federal organisations and programmes; to streamline processes in recruitment, management, procurement and elsewhere; and to more effectively hold federal agencies accountable for improving performance.

There are a couple of saving graces. First, the Budget has to be approved by Congress and, so far, it doesn’t seem to have much support amongst Republicans – let alone Democrats. Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, for example, immediately released a statement criticising the “draconian, careless and counterproductive” reductions Trump makes in his budget.

Second, as the Washington Post reports, it’s a lot harder to cut federal government jobs than Trump may think. Reduction in force is a lengthy and expensive process, which has to take into account numerous legal and union rights.

“These things are being discussed rashly with no consideration of how long it takes to accomplish it. It shouldn’t take a year, but it can,” David Cann, director of field services and education at the American Federation of Government Employees, told the Post.

“If it is done improperly, people can appeal it and get their job back and get back pay. It can be expensive. And inefficient.”

The federal government employs more than 2m civilians. One of the new president’s first actions was to introduce a workforce hiring freeze, while the OMB is developing a long-term plan to cut the size of the workforce through attrition.

A more detailed Budget plan, fleshing out other Trump administration policies, will be released in the spring.

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See also:

Report sheds light on federal contract opportunities in Trump era

Federal agencies face cuts as Trump looks to boost defence budget

US foreign service vacuum as Trump purges public servants

Team Trump – what we know so far

Republican legislators take new powers over public spending


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.

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