Fri | Sep 22, 2017

'Drain the swamp'? Federal workers worried about Trump plan

Published:Tuesday | November 29, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Donald Trump

McLEAN, Virginia (AP):

Melissa Baumann lives 850 miles from the nation's capital, but when she hears President-elect Donald Trump and his supporters say they will "drain the swamp," she worries she will be sucked down into the muck.

Baumann, a chemist with the Forest Service, is one of the nation's four million or so federal workers and is watching anxiously as Trump looks to set his agenda in motion.

In terms of policy, Trump has suggested a federal hiring freeze and hinted at eliminating or sharply curtailing an entire Cabinet agency, the Department of Education.

In terms of rhetoric, he targeted the federal bureaucracy and regulations. And then there's his "drain the swamp" catchphrase.

Trump's allies say that was directed at lobbyists, donors and political cronies. Some federal workers fear he means a broader group.

"I believe that is directed at us. And it's misdirected," said Baumann, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she also serves as a union officer for the Forest Service. The problems in Washington "have nothing to do with the people outside the Beltway" who are doing honourable work under difficult circumstances, she said.

Like most federal workers, Baumann works far from DC, where less than 10 per cent of the federal workforce is stationed, government data show. Maryland and Virginia are large federal employment centres, but so are California, Florida, Texas and Georgia.

 

LAZY, UNNECESSARY RELICS

 

Greg Guthrie, an information specialist with the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) in Alexandria, Virginia, said that after the initial shock of Trump's win, he has adopted a "cautiously optimistic" stance. Trump won as a champion of the working class, he reasoned, and he hopes Trump will advocate for the federal working class as well as the private sector.

Guthrie's co-workers are sympathetic to technology's disruption of the labour force, he said. The NTIS provides reports and research to a variety of customers. Internet search engines now fill some of that role, prompting senators to introduce the 'Let Me Google That For You Act' in 2014 to kill the NTIS. But Guthrie said his agency has reinvented itself and now helps government agencies use big data.

Guthrie said federal workers can adapt when given the opportunity.

"I don't like some of the terms I'm hearing, like 'drain the swamp,'" said Guthrie, also an officer in his union. "Sometimes it's couched as if we're these lazy, unnecessary relics. That's not true. We're people who work hard."