Administration's Management Agenda Would Kill the Civil Service

On May 16, AFGE Policy Director Jacque Simon detailed to members of Congress how the administration’s “President’s Management Agenda” would sabotage the professional civil service and agency missions. 

“I think the best way to describe the President’s Management Agenda and the administration’s personnel management proposals is that they are a set of “worst practices.” The PMA is a “worst practices” document that would sabotage government agencies,” Simon testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on workforce for the 21st century. 

The Trump administration in March released its President’s Management Agenda (PMA) that seeks to degrade federal jobs, cut federal employee compensation, and turn large portions of federal functions over to the more expensive and unaccountable private sector, or abandon government functions completely. 

One disturbing element of PMA is the section titled “Developing a Workforce for the 21st Century.” Its vagueness and jargon can’t really hide its dark intent. Indeed, the administration sent House Speaker Paul Ryan a 2018 legislative proposal that presumably attempts to implement the PMA. In a nutshell, the proposal cuts federal employee compensation and takes away part of the pensions of widows, orphans, the elderly, law enforcement officers, and working class federal employees who keep our air and water safe, protect our borders, take care of our veterans, cut retirement checks to seniors, protect air travelers, keep our communities safe. 

Increasing costs, reducing accountability 

Simon pointed out the contradictions in the administration’s workforce plan. While proposing to lower the cost of the federal workforce by cutting compensation, it also proposes to replace that workforce with more expensive and less accountable contractors. It’s a well-known fact that contractors are two to three times more expensive than federal civilian employees doing the same jobs. 

Having more of the government’s work performed by contractors also puts agency missions at risk. Increased contracting out undermines management control and the public service ethos. By law, contractors’ first loyalty must be to private profits, not the public interest. But duty and loyalty to the American public should come first for those doing our government’s work. 

Despite language about seeking to attract the best people to government, the PMA is clearly making federal employment less desirable by cutting pay and benefits and weakening job security.

“Please do not think of federal employees as nameless, faceless bureaucrats,” Simon told lawmakers. “They are our brave border patrol agents who protect us from criminals engaged in human and narcotic smuggling. They are our Social Security claims representatives helping your grandmother navigate her benefit eligibility. They are our nurses at the VA medical center holding the hand of a dying veteran. They are mothers and fathers and church choir leaders and PTA presidents. They should not be objects of hatred and disdain. They are middle class Americans trying to get by and raise their families and they should not be losing paid leave, having their health insurance made more expensive, or their pensions reduced.”

Politicizing government operations 

The PMA would politicize government functions and operations. The administration wants to turn federal jobs into a modified version of “at will” employment, with employees beholden to political or commercial interests that could determine their future livelihood. 

“Just because the gig economy has made employment for so many Americans unstable and insecure doesn’t mean the federal government should follow suit,” Simon said. “Indeed, contingent workers, like adjunct professors and Uber drivers are doing whatever they can to organize so they can obtain stable, career employment.”

PMA’s unstated goals 

Although the PMA doesn’t state it explicitly, there are a number of things the administration wants to do:

  • Destroy labor unions of federal employees. The Department of Education, for example, repealed virtually all use of official representational time, required union officials who represent employees to do so in a new, unprecedented, unlawful leave without pay status, automatically terminates employee union dues deduction each year, rescinded dozens of contract provisions, and closed all union offices located at DOE facilities. 
  • Sabotage agencies that protect federal employees’ rights. The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has been without a quorum since the beginning of the administration. This means that while federal employees may appeal adverse actions against them to MSPB administrative judges (AJs), agencies simply appeal AJ decisions not to their liking to the full board. Since there is no board quorum, the employee is left in limbo and cannot return to work because there are not enough MSPB members to hear the appeal. At the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), there are three FLRA members in place, but there is no presidentially appointed General Counsel. The result? The FLRA claims it cannot consider unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints.
  • Reduce workplace protections as much as possible. The recent mark-up by the House Armed Services Committee of the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act contains an example of back-door attempts to make federal employees effectively “at will”. Section 1109 of the bill extends authority for civilian federal agencies to make temporary and term appointments to positions in the civil service. The purpose of this section was to permit civilian agencies to make longer temporary and term appointments – up to six years – in order to avoid giving employees full civil service protection from arbitrary removals or even discriminatory agency action.

We need to stop this madness

Call your members of Congress and tell them not to pass any law that would undermine our government and democratic system.

Read Simon’s entire testimony here.


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