Trump signs executive order making it easier to fire federal workers

The president's latest attack against the "administrative state."

President Donald Trump speaking the media on May 25, the same day he signed an executive order making it easier to fire federal workers. CREDIT: Joshua Roberts
President Donald Trump speaking the media on May 25, the same day he signed an executive order making it easier to fire federal workers. CREDIT: Joshua Roberts

President Trump signed a series of executive orders late Friday making it easier to fire federal government workers and weakening the clout of the unions that represent them.

The New York Times reported Andrew Bremberg, who heads up the White House Domestic Policy Council, told media on Friday that in making the changes, Trump was “fulfilling his promise to promote more efficient government by reforming our civil service rules.”

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The Washington Post wrote that in addition to making it easier to dismiss federal workers, the executive orders also bar federal employees from spending more than a quarter of their workday on union business. The rules’ changes also require agencies to negotiate union contracts in less than one year. And the rules shorten the grace period during which workers at risk of being fired can improve their performance, down from three months to just one month.

“These executive orders make it easier for agencies to remove poor performing employees and ensure that taxpayer dollars are more efficiently used,” Bremberg said at the briefing.

Trump hinted at the coming clamp-down on federal workers back in January during his State of the Union address on January 30:

“All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them.  So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

It’s the latest in a series of moves meant to reduce the size and influence of the federal workforce. Several of Trump’s actions since taking office have targeted federal workers: He instated a government-wide hiring freeze during his very first week as president. And the State Department infamously has been hollowed out on his watch.

But more broadly speaking, these latest moves are in keeping with Trump’s assault on the “administrative state,” as Politico reported.  Federal government workers are a main target of these attacks.

To Democrats and others worried about Trump’s agenda, government employees have come to represent a bulwark against radical change—career civil servants who can’t simply be bumped out in favor of loyalists. But to critics of the bureaucracy, those employees represent a massive impediment to change, a “deep state” that defies democracy by resisting the president’s agenda. Trump adviser Newt Gingrich, on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, talked of waging a “straight-out war” against the federal bureaucracy, in part by making it easier to fire federal workers.

Union leaders condemned Trump’s latest moves as an attack on federal employees.

“These executive orders are a direct assault on the legal rights and protections that Congress has specifically guaranteed to the two million public sector employees across the country who work for the federal government,” said David Cox, head of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a statement late Friday.

“President Trump’s executive orders to nothing to help federal workers do their jobs better,” said Cox, whose union is the largest federal government union, representing 700,000 workers. “In fact, they do the opposite by depriving workers of their rights to address and resolve workplace issues such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination, retaliation against whistleblowers, improving workplace health and safety, enforcing reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, and so much more.”