AFGE: Trump Plan to Trash Govt. Personnel Agency Would Politicize Civil Service

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Republican President Donald Trump’s plan to abolish the government’s central personnel agency and put most of its authority in the hands of unaccountable White House aides would politicize the U.S. civil service, the head of the largest federal workers union says.

And Government Employees President (AFGE) J. David Cox’s warning got a sympathetic hearing from majority Democrats on the House Government Operations subcommittee on May 21. Panel Republicans gave Trump tepid support, at best.

"The plan to abolish OPM is reckless, ill-conceived, and potentially dangerous,” Cox testified. “It is potentially dangerous because without a separate personnel agency, there is no formal institutional structure to protect and defend the apolitical civil service from an administration intent on politicization.”

Trump wants to abolish the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which is in effect the government’s HR department, overseeing its two million workers. He would split its duties between the Executive Office of the President -- within the White House -- and the General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, furniture and supplies.

The new personnel chief would be a White House staffer, unaccountable to Congress, workers, unions or the public for trashing federal workers.

Trump’s scheme, previously hinted at in his budgets, is in line with the hard-right anti-worker ideology and actions of both the right-wing president and his extremist anti-worker advisors, many of them drawn from the notorious Heritage Foundation. Cox noted Trump drew it up without consulting anyone else – including workers and unions -- outside his inner circle.

Besides freezing federal workers’ pay and demanding mass cuts, Trump infamously locked out almost 400,000 federal workers for seven weeks, and forced another 400,000 to toil without pay.

Disregarding the suffering he caused to the feds, their families and their communities, Trump used the lockout in a vain effort to force Congress to kowtow to his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall at the Mexican border. 

One unpaid Transportation Security Officer – an airport screener – depressed because he couldn’t feed his family or pay his bills, jumped to his death from the eighth floor of the Tampa Airport’s interior hotel.

What Trump’s plan wouldn’t do is increase morale among federal workers – thousands of whom have quit in frustration since Trump took over – or improve efficiency. Trump’s plan wouldn’t even save any money, witnesses said, as the feds would have to shell out millions of extra dollars in severance pay to more workers who quit.

Cox added Trump presented “no ‘business case’ or other type of analysis of costs, rationale, or risks of abolishing OPM” and moving its functions into the White House. “It is ill-conceived because there has been no consideration of how the plan would affect the sub-stantive work currently performed by OPM” overseeing federal workers and working conditions.

Ken Thomas, whose National Association of Retired Federal Employees speaks for retirees, agreed. He noted OPM manages their pensions and other benefits gained after a lifetime of working for the public – and politicization would endanger that.

“OPM’s critical mission is managing and promoting our nation’s smart and talented government workforce – a workforce that could be subject to political persecutions and non-merit-based actions” should Trump succeed, Thomas said.

The subcommittee’s majority Democrats agreed.

“This is about the administration’s plan to eliminate the independence of the civil service,” said the chair, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., whose suburban D.C. district includes thousands of civil servants.

“The administration wants to take away merit policy functions and put them into the highly politicized environment of the White House, away from congressional oversight and inspector general review. The administration decided a priori to undermine civil service protections” against politicization “and developed this reorganization to obscure its objective,” he said.

Witnesses touched on the history of the civil service, and the objective of isolating federal workers from depending on party allegiances for their jobs. Republican President Chester Arthur got Congress to establish the first civil service in 1883. It replaced the spoils system.

Though they did not say so, Arthur acted after disgruntled and insane office-seeker Charles Guiteau, irate that Arthur’s predecessor, James Garfield, wouldn’t use spoils to give him a top diplomatic job, fatally shot Garfield in a D.C. train station two years before.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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