Reprinted with permission from The Chief.
The draft of President Trump’s first Executive Budget indicates he will make double-digit funding cuts to dozens of non-military agencies as diverse as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. State Department.
If his budget gets Congressional approval, the spending reductions would result in thousands of layoffs, according to members of Congress and the unions that represent the Federal workforce.
The Federal fiscal year starts in October, and critics of the proposed cuts are hoping that they can limit their scope in the Senate, where the GOP has only a four-seat advantage and members may be concerned about next year’s elections and falling into line behind a scorched-earth agenda that was not a key component in Trump’s upset victory.
On the table is a proposed 24-percent cutback at the EPA, which would downsize its headcount of 15,000 by 20 percent; a 37-percent rollback for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a 14-percent cut to the IRS.
The Trump cuts also zero in on agencies that are part of the core of the Department of Homeland Security, including a 14-percent slash to the Coast Guard and 11-percent reductions to both the Transportation Security Administration and FEMA, according to the New York Times. The savings resulting from these cuts would allow increases in headcounts for border and immigration enforcement and for the construction of a wall on the border with Mexico that Mr. Trump made a central campaign pledge.
In an email exchange with THE CHIEF-LEADER, Michael Chertoff, the former DHS Secretary under President George W. Bush, was critical of the Trump strategy to shift resources to the Mexican border by cutting funds that go to protect the nation’s vast coastline and airports. “It’s a little like putting an extra lock on the front door and none on the back door,” he wrote. “You are not protecting the house. It these cuts happen, it would be counterproductive.”
“These budget cuts will make a difficult job even harder for the women and men who protect our skies, patrol our waters, and help us prepare for and respond to emergencies,” American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement. “President Trump promised to ‘make American safe again,’ but the drastic budget cuts he’s proposing will do just the opposite. You don’t improve security by slashing budgets for programs that prevent terrorists from hijacking airplanes.”
One of Mr.Trump’s first official actions upon taking office was to impose a Federal hiring freeze “to be applied across the board in the executive branch.” The executive order excluded the military and gave the heads of all executive-branch departments the latitude to grant exemptions if they deem it “necessary to meet national-security or public-safety responsibilities.”
Back in January, the President also directed that within 90 days of the executive order, “the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with the Director of Office of Personnel Management, shall recommend a long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.”
The significant spending reductions under last week’s budget draft call for cuts in the form of billions of dollars in domestic grant aid passed down to states, counties, and local governments, as well as the reduction in Federal headcount. The dramatic realignment in priorities is being driven by Trump’s plan to use the $54 billion in cuts to fund new spending for the Pentagon, offset significant tax cuts, and wind down agencies like the EPA. Trump contended throughout his campaign that it was “killing American jobs” and gave an edge to the country’s foreign competitors.
In comments made last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon, the White House’s chief strategist, flagged the “three verticals” that would shape the President’s priorities going forward: “national security and sovereignty, economic nationalism,” and “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”
But in addition to making plans for dramatic cuts to the civil-service workforce down the road, Trump has yet to fill more than 1,000 top political positions with job titles like Deputy Secretary which would require congressional confirmation, according to National Public Radio. While many news commentators saw this as a sign of incompetence, Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Policy, said it was the sign of a disciplined strategy of “deconstructing” the government. “They may look chaotic, but they are crazy like a fox,” he said in a phone interview.
For Light, the most compelling evidence of the Trump administration’s intention was the 14-percent cut it wants for the IRS.
“Think about it. What better way to break the back of the government than by undermining the ability of the Federal Government to fund itself?” Light asked. “It fits right into the deconstruction agenda. Like removing the electrical wiring in a house. You start sawing off big parts of these agencies and under-staff them enough so they can’t function; you break morale and finish them off by strangling their funding.”
Light said that in selecting Congressman Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina to lead his Office of Management and Budget, Mr. Trump picked a “really smart guy” who knew the ins and outs of the budget process better than anyone and would “be the most-effective Budget Director in the last 20 years.”
“It would give Cabinet-level officials the prerogative to demote anyone of the 6,000 members of the Senior Executive Service, the highest-paid career people inside the government,” he said. “Any one of these measures by themselves would be significant, but taken in their totality, it is a well-executed deconstruction strategy.”
The combined impact of the hiring freeze and the previous elimination of close to a third of the IRS’s personnel could leave taxpayers frustrated in future years, warned Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU represents 160,000 workers across dozens of Federal agencies.
He said last month in a phone interview, “When you look across government, we certainly have many agencies that have been underfunded. If you look specifically at the IRS since 2010, the IRS has lost almost $1 billion of its funding. That has resulted in the IRS losing on the order of 20,000 employees; that is roughly 30 percent of their workforce.”
According to a senior Federal official not cleared to speak with the news media, the last large-scale reduction-in-force layoffs happened back in the 1990s at the Department of Defense. Reduction-in-force guidelines were first codified after World War II, when the national government wanted to downsize.
Those basic parameters, still in force today, require that civil-service employees subject to termination be ranked into a retention register based on their veteran status, length of service, job performance and the type of service, assuring that provisional hires would be first to go. “The concept is to make sure the newer employees and the poor performers go first,” the source said.
Those employees may retain the right to “bump” other employees, depending on their own work history, how high up they are on the retention registry, and the nature of the cutback.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the Denver Post that a voluntary buyout program across the government could be more feasible than just reducing the size of the workforce. “It’s something we’ve been contemplating putting together,” he said. “We have not yet figured out the final equation.”
IMAGE: FILE PHOTO: Mick Mulvaney testifies before a Senate Budget Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination of to be director of the Office of Management and Budget on Capitol Hill, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo