Across the federal government, career employees are reckoning with the prospect of working for a Donald Trump administration. Today, people from the CDC, NLRB, DOT, TSA, and other agencies speak very freely about their hopes and fears.
This is the second installment of emails we’ve gotten from government employees sharing their thoughts on their new boss. We’ll have another installment next week.
From a federal government employee
I’m a female, “double minority” (race and religion), first-generation-American federal employee. I’ve faced various forms of discrimination (mainly religious, sometimes racial, often gender) from the time I was in elementary school. But I still wanted to serve this country, and I have loved every day of the last 7 years I’ve been doing it. I know I’ve made a positive difference with my work. And, as an added bonus, working for the federal government was the first time I completely felt that my gender, race, and religion didn’t matter. I have a position that is dominated by white males, but they are the ones who have encouraged, supported, promoted, and recognized my work. I have a very obviously minority name, yet I get to sign public documents on behalf of my agency. I’ve won multiple awards that have been celebrated loudly within my agency and announced to the public. Sometimes I still can’t believe my agency lets me give interviews. It’s impossible for me to forget that I’m different when I’m in a meeting and I’m the only woman or only minority (often I’m both at once), but for the last several years I finally stopped seeing myself as a little brown girl, finally felt like I belonged somewhere. That has motivated me even more to strive to do good for the American people.
But I will now be led by a man whose rhetoric undermines and insults every way in which I identify myself, and reduces me to less.
This has nothing to do with policy or party (though I have to worry about that next). Right now, I’m just devastated about how little my gender, race, religion - identity - seem to mean to a man I am supposed to call my leader.
From an employee of the CDC
I currently work for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a science-based organization, the election of DJT, who clearly knows very little about anything associated with the board and dynamic field of science, scares many of us. There is a difference between being ignorant of the principles of science vs those who are clearly anti-science. DJT and his ilk fall into this category. There are a series of public health disasters playing out in states like Kansas, Indiana, and Michigan; where political leaders see little or no value in traditional public health programs or expending the resources necessary to prevent these problems. There is a perceptions that this will only get worse, over the next 4 years. There is a concern that we will become unprepared to face both domestic and international public health challenges. The names that have been offered to serve as the next Secretary of HHS are individuals who are not very well respected within the public health community and are individuals who do not have a high regard for science-based practices or evidence-based medicine.
From an attorney in a regulatory agency
Compound Trump’s terrifying shortcomings with Obama’s strengthening of the Executive and a Republican-controlled Congress, and you have a recipe for unchecked executive overreach. Federal employees will be creating and implementing policies that further this overreach. There’s real fear here. People know that Trump has an enemies list. They know he has no idea how to go about governing, but that he has people he will put into place who may not have specific policy ideas, but have general goals that will impact vulnerable people.
There’s a disconnect, though, over how dangerous the Trump administration can be. Many career attorneys at my agency think about how it will be bad, but understand that it won’t really impact their day to day lives, so there’s more acceptance. Noneducated staffers who are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck seem to have a better grasp of what terrible things could be lying in wait.
The best advice I can give to my fellow federal employees is to stay; we owe our fellow citizens a functioning government. And hysterically leaving before Trump lobs his first bomb will make his second, third, and tenth bombs seem that much more normal. If you are going to resign in moral outrage, do it at the most powerful moment, which is not now.
For federal employees who stay, a psychological reframing will occur. We will be incrementally co-opted to varying degrees. This is natural. Humans are excellent at adaptation and at rationalizing. We forget our worst moments and overly exult in our triumphs. When asked to drastically downsize a federal entitlement program or to change the benefit structure in such a way as to disparately impact minorities, we’ll be happy to reduce it less than someone else would have. We will exult in reducing the evil an iota. But performing lesser evils does not absolve us. We will have to work hard with outside groups outside of work to maintain our moral compasses while staying within the parameters of the Hatch Act.
From a Forest Service employee
Government employees are, perhaps more than anything, risk averse, which is why we enter government service. It doesn’t pay much, we are political pawns, and there generally isn’t much glory in it, but we have a secure paycheck and a fair, albeit clunky and bureaucratic process. And we like serving our country. If they dismantle our agency or bleed it dry, that will be crushing to many people. But as one commenter mentioned, his supporters will still rationalize that it is the other side’s fault.
But I am certainly concerned that they can dismantle us, by reducing funding and environmental laws. And if we sit idle, things won’t get better- trails, roads, and campgrounds need maintenance, illegal dumping and other crimes need cleaning up and abating, and fires need to be put out. We don’t stop fires, but we can protect communities. As for the bigger issues that I work on regarding the health of the forest, who knows? These days our mission and goals are unclear in the face of ongoing climate change. I am concerned Trump and the right will continue to dismiss climate change, but the effects are already happening, and perhaps it is too late anyway. But there is nothing to suggest they will make anything better.
From an employee of the Department of Homeland Security/ TSA
My office contributes to the daily intelligence briefing, and I can’t imagine what a Trump administration is going to do with so much information (often hastily gathered and sometimes wrong) and so many tools at their disposal.
One of my coworkers, a naturalized immigrant, today told me that he and his wife (also a Fed) are seriously running the numbers to see if their retirement plans, cars, and house can net them enough to flee the country with their son and live comfortably back in [home country]. He is afraid for his family’s safety.
This is already a hell of a time to be a federal employee. We’re a favorite congressional scapegoat. We haven’t had raises in years. Our health insurance is shitty, and the prices keep rising for us too. We are at constant risk of furlough. We’re overworked and understaffed. So now we’re looking at freezes of pay, hiring, and benefits...and that’s the best case scenario!
Everything. Is. Fucked.
From an attorney at the National Labor Relations Board
In my office, people are very scared of what might come with a Trump administration. We have fought hard to improve workers’ lives over the past six years, weathering an extremely hostile Congress and court decisions challenging our right to do anything at all. We’ve done some significant things: implemented commonsense union-election rules that limit employers’ ability to delay elections indefinitely, allowed represented employees to bargain with the entity that actually has the ability to change their working conditions, and mounted the most successful challenges yet to mandatory pre-dispute arbitration agreements. All of this is certain to be undone in a Trump administration.
Unfortunately, the new administration will likely not stop with rolling back what we’ve done during Obama’s term. Trump will sign whatever McConnell and Ryan put in front of him, which could include a national right-to-work law or an amendment to the National Labor Relations Act that makes it extremely difficult for unions to enforce their rights. Aside from policy, the new administration could simply end our efforts to enforce workers’ rights with significant budget cuts or a refusal to appoint new members to the Board, which would deprive the Board of its quorum and ability to act.
Like everybody else, I’m also scared of the irreparable damage the new administration will do to the environment, and how its court appointments will make it extremely difficult to undo any changes later on. But the damage to labor, and to workers generally, will be harsh.
From an employee at the Department of Transportation
Our agency builds infrastructure, and its our job to ensure that the burdens of doing that don’t fall disproportionately on any one community of people. Historically speaking, those burdens have almost always fallen on African American communities. In the 50s, they used highway funds as slum clearing. Look up Robert Moses in New York.
And we’ve finally begun to make progress, to stop projects that are devastating communities and force state agencies to either make those projects a net benefit to the communities they’re placed in or build them somewhere else. We’re able to ensure that transit lines go through the poor neighborhoods that need them most. Civil rights isn’t an afterthought designed to derail projects anymore, its a part of them.
All of that changes now. You think President Trump and his Secretary of Transportation are going to get all riled up about ensuring that persons with limited English proficiency get to participate in the decisionmaking processes affecting their communities? Or that a big, beautiful, billion dollar bridge is going to get held up to make sure that the site selection isn’t having a disparate impact on the basis of race?
I went to law school and justified doing it specifically to fight for these issues, and was thrilled that I could find a home in the government to do it. Its one thing to have the advocacy community fighting for justice and equality, its another when you have the full weight of the federal government.
I was looking forward to a long federal career advancing civil rights, and even gave up on my plan to start looking for a new job in the advocacy world in October if it looked like Trump even had a chance. Laziness, I suppose, he had no chance anyway. Now what? I feel shitty even being concerned about my own career here, at the very worst I’ll be bored to tears doing nothing at my desk for 8 years, when so many others are being physically threatened by a man that 60 million people supported for president. Fuck.