Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.
And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”
At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forumto discuss their opposition to the Trump administration. And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.
At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said he and his colleagues have been planning to slow their work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if they are asked to shift grants away from their mission.
“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”
The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs.
Asked whether federal workers are dissenting in ways that go beyond previous party changes in the White House, Tom Malinowski, who was President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said, sarcastically: “Is it unusual? . . . There’s nothing unusual about the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States feeling like their commander in chief is a threat to U.S. national security. That happens all the time. It’s totally usual. Nothing to worry about.”
The thing with a federal bureaucracy designed to continue working past any single President is that most of the time it works as intended, and it doesn't turn on a dime. Federal employees have families and pay taxes and grocery shop and go to worship and drop their kids off at school just like anyone else with a job. There's also a lot of them, although the federal workforce as a percentage of the US population is actually under 2% these days, the lowest it has been in decades.
Still, given the more than 320 million Americans these days, that's still a lot of people, and they know how to fight from within the system.
The big weapon is leaks, and yes, before you go all "well, actually" on me I know the Obama administration took a very dim view of whisteblowers and leaks in general. They also paid for it with massive espionage and data breaches.
I don't think Trump will be any better, and a whole lot more people are going to be motivated to leak frankly. We're already seeing that with draft executive orders and other inside information hitting journalist's mailboxes daily at this point, and it's been less than two weeks.
Bottom line is to expect more leaks. A lot more.