About turn: what Biden’s presidency means for federal staff

By on 19/01/2021 | Updated on 19/01/2021
The Biden-Harris administration: experts share what it could mean for federal workers. Credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President

As Donald Trump faces his last day in the White House, US civil servants are preparing for a new administration and a very different style of government. We ask three experts what officials can expect from the new president

Today is Donald Trump’s last day as president of the United States, marking the end of an administration that often seemed actively hostile to its own federal workers.

But what do the next four years hold for the government workforce? What should President Biden focus on first? And how can he go about rebuilding public trust in the federal government? We asked three experts for their thoughts and insights – feel free to add yours in the comments section or by tweeting us @globegov.

What can federal workers expect from a Biden presidency?

“This Thursday, for the first time in four years, federal employees around the country will show up to work knowing that the leader of the executive branch values their contributions to our nation, respects their workplace rights and wants them to have the resources they need to get the job done.  
“During the campaign, President-elect Biden personally assured me that he would rescind the three 2018 executive orders signed by President Trump that poisoned the labour-management relationship in the federal sector and undermined the collective bargaining rights of federal workers. Once those are gone, federal agencies will no longer be under orders to gut contracts and diminish the ability of federal employees to have a meaningful voice in the workplace. 
“I have been struck by how so many of president-elect Biden’s nominees have chosen, in their introductory remarks, to honour the career civil servants in the agencies which they have been nominated to lead. They have already promised to collaborate with frontline workers and respect their expertise and experience in tackling the nation’s biggest challenges. And his nominees actually believe in the mission of their agencies. This is a sea change from the last four years.”
Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union

“Federal workers can expect friendlier policies from the Biden administration. His folks are pro-worker and close to federal employee unions so there will be stronger support for policies on worker pay, sick leaves, medical benefits, and remote work. Trump was openly antagonistic to federal workers so they will see a substantial difference in tone and substance.”
Darrell West, vice president of governance studies and senior fellow of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution

“Federal workers have high hopes from president Biden. He promised to be the most pro-worker, pro-union president ever and, if he’s serious, that should start with the way he treats his own workforce. The nominations so far show how clearly he values diversity, qualifications, and experience. 

“Among his campaign promises, number one is to revoke the Trump executive orders from 2018 and give strict instructions to all agency heads to come back to the bargaining table so we can eliminate every trace of the existence of those union-busting abominations.”
Jacqueline Simon, public policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

What do you think Biden’s priorities for federal workers should be?

“President Biden’s priorities should be: to restore trust on the part of the federal workforce that the administration will allow agencies to carry out their missions without regard to political agendas; to engage respectively and constructively with our union at the table and through a true partnership; and last, but certainly not least, to provide substantial pay adjustments to restore the purchasing power of federal employee wages and salaries that have been eroded by years of austerity budgets.”
Jacqueline Simon

“Biden’s immediate priority will be COVID assistance and vaccine distribution. That is the most important thing he needs to work on and he wants to make sure worker health is protected. As part of his proposed legislation, he is extending sick time provisions, improving worker benefits, and promoting greater protections for civil servants.”
Darrell West

“Our list of priorities for the Biden administration all have one thing in common: helping the federal government recruit and retain highly-skilled personnel capable of delivering important government services to all Americans. This list includes restoring good faith bargaining; adequate agency funding; fair pay; rescinding all harmful personnel policies enacted by the previous administration; appointing qualified, experienced and fair-minded people to the various boards that settle labour-management disputes in the federal sector; providing paid family leave for federal employees; and protecting scientific integrity.

“In addition, we are asking the Biden administration to restore the formal labour-management partnership councils as created by President Clinton and continued by President Obama. They promote collaboration and communication between management and employees, help solve problems early and foster innovations that benefit employees and taxpayers.”
Tony Reardon

How can Biden build more public trust in federal government?

“The first step in rebuilding the public’s trust in government will be to have a president who trusts government. By treating federal employees with dignity and respect, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris can set the example that our federal government is staffed with committed public servants who take an oath to uphold the constitution… We expect the Biden administration will treasure their independence and showcase their expertise.”
Tony Reardon

“The best way he can build trust among the general public is by delivering positive results. If he can reduce COVID casualties and speed up vaccination, that will go a long way to improving the general climate in the United States.”
Darrell West

“All he really needs to do is allow the merit system to work and fully staff the agencies. What will follow is that agencies will be able to deliver all the services the law provides in a highly efficient and effective manner.”
Jacqueline Simon

About Kate Hodge

Kate is a journalist and editor, holding roles at both the Guardian and the Financial Times. She specialised in education and combines writing, commissioning and editing with social media and audience engagement. If you have any ideas you would like to pitch, or suggestions to improve the website, feel free to email her on [email protected]

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