U.S. News

Should I stay or should I go? U.S. civil servants gird for Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election has set off a round of resume-polishing across Washington, as the nation’s federal civil servants prepare for a leader who has promised to freeze hiring and reverse many of the policies they have spent the past eight years putting in place.

Storm clouds hover above the Washington monument in Washington D.C., U.S., August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

While anti-Washington rhetoric is a staple of U.S. politics, more than two dozen federal workers interviewed by Reuters said Trump’s divisive presidential campaign pointed to bigger potential problems than those that would normally come with a routine switch from a Democratic to a Republican administration.

The New York businessman’s lack of political experience and contentious rhetoric have prompted some to assess whether they should leave government before he takes office on Jan. 20.

As the Republican presidential candidate, Trump encouraged his supporters to harass journalists and attack protesters. He vowed to sue news outlets and women who accused him of sexual assault and said he would jail his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s conduct has caused some undercover agents to worry that their identities could be made public if they step out of line, said Susan Hennessey, a former attorney at the National Security Agency who has been urging people in government to keep working in Trump’s administration to help resist potential abuses of power.

“I can’t and don’t blame anyone who feels they can’t stay,” she said.

Other federal workers worry their integrity could be compromised if they work on cases that affect Trump’s vast business interests. Trump’s taxes are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service and the National Labor Relations Board is involved in a labor dispute at his Las Vegas hotel. Changes to tax laws or pollution rules could potentially impact some of his property holdings.

“Do I get out or is it all the more important that I stay in to push back on the problematic things?” said one federal worker, who, like others interviewed for this story, asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation at work.


A transfer of power always convulses Washington to some degree, particularly when it comes to the departure and arrival of political appointees in more than 4,000 posts. Those top officials oversee 2.7 million civilian workers, from park rangers to tax lawyers, who are expected to enact the president’s agenda and enforce laws passed by Congress regardless of their personal political views.

But several workers told Reuters they’d rather leave government service than carry out orders they don’t agree with, pointing specifically at Trump’s vow to undo President Barack Obama’s policies on trade, immigration, health care and environmental protection.

National security officials have printed out their resignation letters, ready to hand them in if Trump tries to revive policies such as waterboarding or mass surveillance of Americans they oppose on legal or moral grounds, according to more than 20 military, intelligence and Foreign Service officers, who all spoke on condition of anonymity.

Regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency privately say they are looking for new jobs ahead of expected cutbacks at their agency, whose climate-change rules were criticized by Trump on the campaign trail.

One manager is urging employees to stay on the job.

“Sometimes democracy surprises you. And while the election results will no doubt bring many changes over the coming months, our job remains the same,” Sarah Dunham, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Atmospheric Programs, wrote to colleagues two days after the election.

Misgivings apparently extend into the nation’s 1.5 million military service members as well. A survey released by the Military Times on Friday found that one in five service members said they will not re-enlist with Trump as Commander-in-chief.


During his campaign, Trump promised to rescind two regulations for every new one his administration issues and freeze hiring at agencies that don’t cover public safety, public health or national defense. Republicans in Congress have pushed to erode job protections and scale back benefits.

That would be a further blow for federal workers who have weathered furloughs, salary freezes and a three-week government shutdown in recent years.

The civilian work force has shrunk by 4 percent since Obama’s first year in office, according to White House figures, and it could shrink further. More than one-third of federal workers will be eligible for retirement next year, according to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report.

“This isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to us,” said a scientist who manages a fisheries laboratory in the Pacific Northwest of the expected changes. “It’s kind of continual.”

There may be a silver lining for those who are trying to get a job working for Uncle Sam. Trump has promised to increase the number of border-security agents and immigration-enforcement officers as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

And several managers said they were rushing to fill vacancies on their teams before Trump’s promised hiring ban takes effect.

“Everybody seems to be scrambling to fill the positions they have open now,” one said.

Additional reporting by Dustin Volz, John Walcott, Valerie Volcovici and Ian Simpson; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Mary Milliken