WASHINGTON -- Many Republican presidential candidates have argued the federal government is bloated and its employees are lacking. Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave a glimpse of how that attitude would play out if he became president on Tuesday evening, suggesting to a town hall crowd in New Hampshire that he would retaliate against career civil service employees if they disagreed with him.
In response to a question at a town hall in Derry, N.H., Perry outlined his view of the role of the federal government and reiterated that he would like to reform -- not abolish -- the Environmental Protection Agency.
Perry stressed that he expects federal workers to follow his vision. If they don't, he joked, he would punish them.
"So having men and women who share my philosophy, and then giving clear instruction to those agencies. And if the bureaucrats in that agency try to block -- Health and Human Service is a great example. If you have Health and Human Service bureaucrats that try to block our being able to block grant dollars back to the states so you all can decide how best to deliver health care in New Hampshire -- I don't think you can fire federal bureaucrats, but you can reassign them. So reassign them to some really god-awful place," he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
"Federal bureaucrats" -- also known as civil service workers -- can be fired. But the employees in those positions are intended to be non-political and usually serve across administrations, as opposed to the political appointees that presidents install when they take office. Their job is to offer impartial, nonpartisan advice.
Presidents of both political parties have come under intense criticism for ignoring the advice of civil service employees or trying to politicize their jobs. President George W. Bush's appointees inappropriately considered political and ideological leanings when hiring career employees at the Department of Justice; President Obama is now facing heat from Republicans for ignoring the doubts of career staffers at the Energy Department who bristled at the push to approve Solyndra's loan guarantee.
Perry did not specify what a "god-awful place" would be during his remarks, which took place at the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce, and his campaign did not immediately return a request for clarification.
And this isn't the first time Perry has suggested government is outsized.
Perry has advocated for eliminating three federal agencies -- the Departments of Energy, Education and Commerce -- a position that got him in trouble earlier this month when he couldn't enumerate the agencies during a debate. He has also argued that being a member of Congress should be only a part-time position.