President Donald Trump already has some congressional Republicans worried about his ability to stay on message. But the president's federal government hiring freeze sends an age-old conservative message loud and clear.
On his first full working day at the White house, Trump signed an executive order to halt hiring for new and existing federal positions, except those in national security and public safety. Positions involved with running government, protecting our air and water, and administering social programs like Social Security will go unfilled.
The White House said the order was signed to "respect the American taxpayer," but the last time a president froze hiring government-wide it cost taxpayers. Ronald Reagan's 1981 hiring freeze led to more contracting with private corporations, which often costs the government more.
In fact, government isn't smaller now, it's just outsourced. It's been estimated that three quarters of workers that serve the American public actually work for contractors. John Dilulio, the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, says the path to "smaller government" is actually hiring one million more federal employees.
Even businesses wouldn't freeze hiring--they'd figure out what needs to be done and bring in the staff needed to do it well.
Reagan's ultimate goal, of course, was to downsize government. In the words of Grover Norquist, who Reagan asked to found the conservative think tank Americans for Tax Reform, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Trump's hiring freeze is the next step in a forty-year assault on government. Blaming government--and public employees--for society's problems has weakened democratic control over public goods and services and helped expand corporate power through privatization. All the while, political and economic inequality has surged to historic levels.
When we defend public education, build new public infrastructure, and protect our water, we fight for a democratic vision of government that serves everyone. We can't do that without talented and committed public employees to do the work.
Let's stand with public employees and make sure we have enough of them.