Federal employees are stepping up their defiance of President Trump, increasingly willing to criticize or defy the White House and Trump’s top appointees.
In recent days, several staffers in the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have openly shredded their superiors within the last several weeks, continuing a trend that has developed throughout the government over the course of Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office.
As noted by The Hill, “the growing opposition in the executive branch comes as the White House’s legislative agenda has stalled in Congress and Trump turns to his Cabinet agencies to change course in several policy areas. It also is emanating from career staffers whose resistance to Trump has, at times, been rooted in deep opposition to the president’s agenda.”
“From our point of view, it’s kind of obvious,” said Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), when asked about staffers’ growing pushback.
“You have Donald Trump, who ran and said he would drain the swamp, meaning them,” he added, according to The Hill.
Trump’s allies have often cast the president as the victim of the “deep state,” an entrenched liberal bureaucracy bent on damaging his agenda through leaks and resistance.
They argue the deep state extends from agencies such as the EPA, where employees could be angered with Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, to career service intelligence agency staff who leak damaging information about the president.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on Friday even accused special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now investigating Russia’s involvement in last year’s election, as representing the “deep state at its worse.”
But critics of Trump say government employees speaking out should be commended, not punished.
“I think career staff don’t typically speak out publicly unless they feel like there are serious issues and problems going on within the agency,” said Liz Purchia, a former Obama administration EPA spokeswoman.
“It takes a lot of guts for someone to make the decision to end their government service and to put themselves out there for public scrutiny and comment. … You wouldn’t see that if they didn’t feel like there was a considerable threat to the agency and its missions.”
PEER on Tuesday released an open letter from Elizabeth Southerland, a former top water official at the EPA who said she was retiring because of proposed deep budget cuts to the agency and Administrator Scott Pruitt’s deregulatory agenda. She wrote that “the environmental field is suffering from the temporary triumph of myth over truth.”
The Hill also reports that several staffers have launched a group called “Save EPA” to defend the agency. And EPA unions and employees invited his group to do “free-speech brown bag presentations” about how to legally fight back against the administration.
In the Interior Department, the former director of the Office of Policy Analysis, Joel Clement, has filed a whistleblower complaint against Trump administration political appointees such as Secretary Ryan Zinke, saying he was reassigned to the agency’s revenue office because of his former research and advocacy over climate change.
The acting director of the Drug Enforcement Agency also broke with the president, saying Trump “condoned police misconduct” in his speech to law enforcement on Long Island last week.
And even the military is defying Trump. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said this week that the service “will not break faith” with its transgender members, despite President Trump’s promise to roll back policies allowing transgender service members.
Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics, resigned in July after publicly clashing with Trump on ethical issues. And the president was forced to fire Sally Yates, his acting attorney general, in January, 11 days into her term, when she refused to defend an immigration order.