WASHINGTON ― Federal bureaucrats are used to change. Every four years, they have to deal with the possibility that they’ll get a new boss who could upend all their work and make them chart a new course. And there’s a good chance this new president may not be the person they voted for. Career employees in the government watch presidents of both parties come and go, but they continue to stay where they are and keep the the place running.
But there’s something different about this election and the rise of Donald Trump, a man who has never held elected office or served in the military. He’s unpredictable and, to many people in the government, deeply offensive because of many of the comments he made during the campaign.
Some career federal employees ― who tend to be nonpolitical and can’t be removed at the whim of a new administration ― find themselves grappling with a crisis that they’ve never encountered with past transitions.
The Huffington Post spoke to a senior career official at one of the major federal agencies involved in domestic policy, who requested anonymity for fear of repercussion. Such officials often have decades of experience in government and have worked on several transitions for the agency, including this one. In their experience, they’ve never seen the consternation and fear that federal employees are currently experiencing over the incoming Trump administration.
The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
Q: How is this transition going? How is it different from past ones?
One thing that’s different is that the president-elect is such an unknown commodity, having really no prior government or military experience. I think that is unique.
I think what is really concerning a lot of career individuals is some of the behavior that was exhibited on the campaign trail. What many of them are bringing to my attention and what they’re fearful of is some of that behavior being acceptable in the workplace. So there’s a lot of concern about that.
Q: What sort of behavior?
Sexual harassment. Sexual misconduct. Discrimination.
Q: They fear that what he said and did on the campaign trail could become part of the culture in the federal government?
The norm in the federal agencies. We spend so much time on promoting a [fair] work environment for all employees. Individuals who come to me are fearful of going backward in that regard because we’ve made so much progress.
Q: Have you seen this much concern from career employees when past administrations have taken over?
I’ve never seen anything like this. Never. Never these kinds of concerns. I mean, you can disagree with people from a political or partisan perspective, but the norm is always that you treat people with a certain amount of civility and with decency and respect.
Q: Based on your conversations, are career employees planning to stick around or leave?
I’ve heard both. Some of the more senior individuals, I’ve heard that they feel that they want to stick around to be a buffer with the new team and their staff. But I also hear people at different levels, if they’re eligible to retire, they say, “I’m going to leave, I do not want to be associated with a new administration.”
I’ve heard of at least one example where a person has declined a job because they don’t want to be affiliated with the new administration ― a career position. That’s one position, but it does have the potential to affect the government’s ability to attract talent.
Q: How concerned are people with the rumors that Trump and Republicans in Congress are going to change items like federal pay raises and retirement plans?
I’m hearing the most concern about the potential hiring freeze that the president-elect stated he was going to impose upon taking office. I’m hearing a lot of concern about that and the impact that will have on our ability to fulfill [our missions].
Q: At this point in past transitions, have the president-elect’s teams been further along in getting things ready for the new administration?
Yes. The only exception was the contested election in 2000. And that was an isolated situation, definitely.
Q: Are you going to stick around?
I’m thinking of my options. I think I fall into the caption of being a buffer for my team. We’re exploring our options. I also heard a lot of concern from people who do civil rights and whether that will be valued in the new administration.
Q: Have you already started to hand over transition materials to the new administration?
We have all our transition materials ready. The landing team, as of now, they have not come. We’re just following the news and waiting for official notification as to when they will arrive.
Q: Anything else you’ve observed?
I mean, literally, I’ve had employees come to me in tears. They’re very fearful of what’s going to happen.
Q: And you haven’t had that before?
Never had that before. So I just try to reassure them and we still have laws and policies that will still be in effect. Our expectation will be that people will be held accountable for their actions.
I also state that right now, we don’t know who the next secretary or the next deputy secretary will be. But those individuals will be key. They will set the tone for the rest of the agency. And I just tell people to take it one day at a time.
Do you work in a federal agency? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you’re seeing and hearing, and if you’re thinking of staying in government for the next administration.