But all of that could change under new threats from former President Donald Trump and his allies, to the detriment of our democracy and our government’s ability to protect us from a myriad of challenges facing our country.
Recent reports have revealed that a group of Trump supporters are “preparing to radically reshape the federal government if [he is] re-elected, potentially purging thousands of public servants and filling career positions with people loyal to him and his America First ideology. And the former president publicly sworn to do just that.
Taking such a drastic step would effectively eviscerate the merit-based apolitical career in public service and bring the country back to the days when competence was undervalued and public office was used to reward members of the winning political party.
The plan, first outlined in an executive order from Trump in the fall of 2020 and rescinded by President Joe Biden two days after taking office, has support from some Republicans in Congress and could be adopted by others. potential candidates for the GOP Presidency. It would create a new job classification for “career employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making and policy-advocacy positions”, and strip these individuals of long-standing public service protections by allowing politically appointed leaders to fire them at will. .
Reviving this proposal could require a wide range of public servants, including policy analysts, lawyers, managers, scientists and a host of other career staff whose impartial judgment we rely on for safety and security, to show partisan allegiance or risk their jobs.
Such a policy would have a real chilling effect – discouraging federal employees from speaking out while eroding public confidence in our government. It would also tarnish the historic requirement for a merit-based system where well-qualified federal employees are charged with our most sensitive abilities, data, and choices, and undermine the role of public servants as guardians of the public good.
The current civil service system is remarkable for its ability to ensure the continuity of our government during changes in administration. It avoids huge knowledge gaps by keeping officials in place who specialize in terrorism, cybersecurity, international relations, public health and a wide range of other critical issues.
The arbitrary firing of tens of thousands of public servants by a new administration could not only put the nation at risk, but potentially hamper the government’s ability to effectively deliver important services, from veterans benefits and social security to agricultural programs and to military preparation.
Our nation’s chief executive already faces the daunting task of filling more political appointees than any other democracy. Of those 4,000 appointees, about 1,200 must go through the Senate’s slow and partisan confirmation process, leaving many critical jobs unfilled for long stretches and leadership gaps in government.
Indeed, we need fewer, not more, political appointments, as well as a host of changes to strengthen the public service. This includes better leadership development, better employee recognition, support for innovation, increased accountability for poor performance, and more streamlined hiring practices and policies that will bring young people and those with tech skills in the federal workforce.
Politicizing the federal workforce would be a big step backwards and undo many of the hard lessons learned from the past.
Congress and the White House should not just act to anticipate future efforts to bring a wrecking ball to the merit-based professional public service. They should take steps through new legislation to strengthen it and, in doing so, protect our system of democratic governance.
In a world where we face so many rapidly changing challenges and risks, we need a highly capable and capable government, not one that takes us back to the 19th century.