President Trump will give his State of the Union address on Feb. 5. But understanding the state of our union includes understanding the state of federal agencies, which serve as the backbone of our government and provide taxpayer services to the American people.
As the recent government shutdown has demonstrated, federal agencies and federal employees play a crucial role in our lives. Take air traffic controllers, TSA officers, food inspectors, public health researchers, environmental inspectors, for example. Without them, our country simply cannot function. These hardworking men and women make our lives easier and safer, giving us freedom to work, play, and live.
But most people don’t have any idea how the agencies they so rely on are funded and staffed.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the state of our federal government and its workforce:
Understaffed & Underfunded
- The Department of Veterans Affairs is in trouble. Its medical facilities are over 46,000 employees short. VA facilities that process veterans’ benefits are struggling to fill 5,000 positions. Chronic understaffing has left the agency unable to fulfill its mission of taking care of our veterans. The main reason why the VA can’t fill its vacancies? Scroll down to the “Under Attack” section and find out.
- The Bureau of Prisons has been dealing with staffing shortages since at least 2015. The staffing situation got worse when the Trump administration decided last year to cut 6,000 positions. To deal with staffing shortages of correctional officers, the agency has to compel teachers, secretaries, nurses and other support staff to step in and help guard inmates, creating even greater security risks.
The Environmental Protection Agency has been hamstrung in its efforts to fulfill its mandate of protecting families and the environment. The Trump administration, for example, has rolled back clean water regulation, allowing industry to dump pollutants into our water sources. It has rolled back a climate change regulation that restricted new coal plants. On top of that, every year the administration proposes to severely cut the agency’s funding. In 2018, for example, it wanted to cut EPA’s 2018 budget by 31%, or about $2.6 billion, and get rid of 4,000 employees who dedicated their lives to fulfilling the agency’s mission and protecting community health in this country. It also wanted to cut more than 50 environmental protection programs and slash funding for cleaning up hazardous waste sites by 30%. Even though Congress, at the urging of our union and environmentalists, did not allow the proposed severe cuts, it revealed the administration’s anti-public health agenda. As a result of the administration’s hostility toward the agency and its mission, researchers and scientists are leaving the EPA in droves. EPA regional offices have also been quietly downsized.
- The Social Security Administration has faced severe budget cuts, resulting in staffing shortages and closures of more than 70 Social Security offices across the country since 2010. As a result, nearly 1 million people are waiting to hear if their disability claims will be approved. The average wait is 600 days – up from 353 days in 2012. Long waits can cause financial ruin for families. More than 10,000 people died waiting to hear SSA’s decisions. More than 10,000 baby boomers retire every day, but SSA has been telling seniors to go online to apply for benefits and wade through all the rules and regulations themselves without human beings to guide and give them advice.
Our union works with members of Congress every year to fight these cuts and make sure federal employees have the resources to do the work they’ve been hired to do. Without our involvement, the situation would have been much worse.
- A constant threat of a government shutdown is taking its toll on the federal workforce. Federal employees did not join public service to get rich, but they have bills to pay and families to feed. Being taken hostage in political fights shouldn’t be a job requirement for federal researchers looking to find cures to diseases, for TSA officers trying to keep bombs off the planes, for correctional officers who keep the most dangerous criminals behind bars. People may have a great desire and talent to serve our country, but the possibility of being locked out of work without pay or forced to work without pay makes them think twice before joining public service. The recent shutdown already forced many to look for other jobs; they had bills to pay and did not feel appreciated. Our union worked with members of Congress and engaged in a massive campaign to end the shutdown and provide back pay to federal employees. We’re urging Congress to pass full-year appropriations and debate policy matters without shutting down our government.
- A constant attack on our voice at work and workplace rights by anti-government politicians has weakened our democracy and public service. The Trump White House’s illegal executive orders, for example, sought to remove checks and balances in the federal civil service, opening employees up to retaliation, discrimination, and unjust termination. The VA attacked workplace rights of 100,000 health care professionals by removing 430 Title 38 workers from official time, limiting their ability to perform union representational duties. The Department of Education unilaterally imposed its own illegal edict on 3,900 federal employees. What they were doing was outrageous and anti-democracy. Our union took legal action against the administration and these agencies and will not rest until we’ve successfully fought their union-busting efforts.
- A constant attack on pay and benefits has hurt employee morale and made them feel unappreciated. Despite the important work they do saving lives and creating safe and thriving communities across the country, they have suffered pay freezes and benefit cuts to the tune of $200 billion since 2011. As a result, they earn nearly 5% less today that they did at the start of the decade. The situation would have been much worse if it was not for our union working with members of Congress to defeat various proposed cuts over the years.
For more information on the state of our government and its workforce, visit www.afge.org.
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