Some federal employees are upset that Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States. They are so upset, that some are planning to fight and undermine the policy agenda of President Trump. When career federal employees actively oppose the lawful directives of the president of the United States, they are seeking to undermine the results of the presidential election, and substitute their wisdom for that of the voters. These federal employees are undermining the oath they swore to “support and defend” the Constitution. They must go.
If a bureaucrat has moral objections to a policy directive they are asked to carry out, they should honor their conscience and resign. History is filled with examples of those who dissented against government policies with which they disagreed. Dissent is honorable. It calls attention to policies that some believe need to be questioned. Dissent is part of our democratic tradition. Minority views must have a prominent place in the public square and those who hold those views should have their First Amendment rights vigorously protected. Dissent is creative. It challenges preconceived ideas, and creates a healthy tension when considering policy options that can lead to better outcomes.
When a federal employee turns dissent into disruption and disobedience, then they have crossed a line. If President Trump issues a policy that is legal and with which a federal employee disagrees, they have to carry out the directive. If their conscience forbids them to carry out the policy, they need to resign. The civil service is effective largely to the extent that it is above politics. As the Heritage Foundation explained, “the President needs a full cadre of personnel committed to him and his agenda in the federal agencies that execute the details of national policy.” Once a presidential election is over, federal employees are obliged to respect the results of that election, and carry out the lawful policy initiatives of the president.
If a federal employee doesn’t like the ideological foundation or likely outcomes of a presidential directive, it doesn’t mean that the directive is not legal. It means that the views of the federal employee are in conflict with the views of the president who runs the federal government. In that instance, the solution should not be to resist the actions of the president in their professional capacity as a career civil servant in the workplace. The solution is for that federal employee to honorably resign, not actively or passively hamper the White House.
Some federal employees are contemplating a course of action that is contrary to our best traditions as a democracy and the professionalism of career federal employees. As The Washington Post reported, “there’s another level of resistance to the new president that is less visible and potentially more troublesome to the administration: a growing wave of opposition from the federal workers charged with implementing any new president’s agenda.” These federal workers have tremendous power to undermine a president. According to a former George W. Bush official, “all of the work that the new administration wants to get accomplished will depend on the speed and productivity of the federal workforce.”
Members of that workforce may try to “use the tools of bureaucracy to slow or sandbag policy proposals — moves that can overtly, or passive aggressively, unravel a White House’s best-laid plans.” Already some federal employees are engaging with Obama administration officials about how best to circumvent the policies of the Trump administration. And “some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.” If these actions are being taken to thwart the work of the Trump administration, they must cease in order to preserve the professionalism of the career civil service and honor the oath these federal workers have sworn. Conservative policy ideas may be viewed with opprobrium by career federal employees partial to the politics of the left. Their solution shouldn’t be to compromise the professionalism of the civil service by hindering the policy of a duly elected president and his Senate confirmed cabinet.
Whistleblower protections and the ability of federal workers to express their views through mechanisms such as the dissent channel at the Department of State must be vigorously protected. The rights of federal employees must be defended. Many of them have put themselves in harm’s way to serve their nation. They work long hours to help advance the best interests of the United States. Federal employees are a vital part of our national government. Thus, their commitment to ideological impartiality, and willingness to carry out the priorities of the president — regardless of party — are key to keeping our government running properly.
Unelected civil servants are in the wrong when they seek to obstruct lawful presidential policies with which they have ideological differences. They are in the right if they resign rather than execute policies that conflict with their consciences. That form of dissent should be respected. Harming our federal government by slowing down valid directives due to policy views of the federal employee should be met with censure.
Neil Siefring is vice president of Hilltop Advocacy, LLC, and a former Republican House staffer. Follow him on Twitter @NeilSiefring