Posts Tagged ‘federal workforce’

American Government: What is the “deep state”?

March 10, 2017

The Economist

And where does it come from?

THE Trump era is reshaping not just American politics but also its lexicon. Terms such as “fake news”, “alt-right” and “post-truth” have entered mainstream use, and kicked up debates about what they actually mean in the process. “Deep state” is the latest to gain attention, as leaks from inside the administration frustrate Donald Trump’s supporters. Right-wing websites such as Breitbart News warn of a “deep state” that wants to “terminate” Mr Trump. Some extreme sites talk of a “war” between the deep state and the president. “If it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state,” Bill Kristol, a conservative critic of Mr Trump, recently tweeted. But what does the term actually refer to?

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American pundits have often used “deep state” interchangeably with the bureaucracies of the military and spy agencies, especially those bits that leak against the government. Mr Trump’s relations with his spies have been tense since the intelligence community determined that Russia had tried to influence the election in his favour. He has publicly challenged their assessments of his team’s ties with Russia, chastised them for past intelligence failures and compared leaks against him to practices in Nazi Germany. His supporters cite “deep-state” leaks embarrassing to Mr Trump’s administration as evidence of a shadowy network of unelected government officials undermining the president. (The president has not publicly used the term.)

But the deep state started life as something else entirely. Citizens in Turkey, where the term originated, have long worried about the derin devlet (“deep state”), which refers to a network of individuals in different branches of government, with links to retired generals and organised crime, that existed without the knowledge of high-ranking military officers and politicians. Its goal was purportedly to preserve secularism and destroy communism by any means necessary, outside the regular chain of command. Starting in the 1950s Turkey’s deep state sponsored killings, engineered riots, colluded with drug traffickers, staged “false flag” attacks and organised massacres of trade unionists. Thousands died in the chaos it fomented.

In its present avatar, “deep state” seems set to go the way of “fake news” in American discourse, a once-useful term rendered meaningless by promiscuous repetition, often in reference to quite different things. Turkey is a pioneer here too. After a handful of city councils in Germany recently cancelled rallies in support for Mr Erdogan, Turkey’s foreign minister offered a simple explanation: “This is a systematic move of the German deep state.”




While Trump Keeps Media Under Assault, He Quietly Dismantles The Federal Government — Steady demolition of the bureaucracy

February 26, 2017

The Trump Administration’s Not-So-Benign Neglect

While we’re watching the scandals du jour, the president and his top advisers are dismantling the federal government.

The rage felt by the president’s critics is real, and understandable, but it also plays into Trump’s broader agenda. His chief strategist Steve Bannon outlined that strategy this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference, describing it as nothing less than the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Bannon’s comments this week suggest a darker, more nefarious purpose to the nascent Trump administration’s dysfunction. It may be the case that the Trump team is deliberately failing to staff, manage, and provide resources for federal agencies so as to sabotage and slowly dismantle them. To make matters worse, the Trump team might be leveraging the controversies regarding its disastrous national security moves to obscure and conceal that slow and steady demolition of the bureaucracy.

After the election, the administration was slow to deploy its transition teams, pick top officials, develop future budgets, and generally take the reins of government. By almost any measure, the Trump White House lagged behind prior transitions in these efforts—it was the dog that caught the car and didn’t know what to do next. To this day, the Trump administration lags in terms of picking its political appointees, let alone articulating a comprehensive policy agenda that goes much beyond “make America great again.” At the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the two largest federal agencies by budget and headcount, the Trump imprint on policy remains amazingly light. One can glean more about acquisition, health care, or war-making from presidential tweets than from the White House’s website.

Federal agencies require certain commodities to run: leadership, legislative authorization, funding, and people. The combination of these commodities results in programming, executed either by government employees, contractors, or local governments using federal grant funds. Every part of this formula has been neglected by the Trump administration.

The officials the Trump administration has appointed include personnel whose résumés are extraordinarily thin on governance experience and who are hostile to the government itself. Dr. Ben Carson, the former presidential candidate who is now leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has never worked in government. Neither has Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose donations have funded an anti-federal agenda for years. One appointee, Gov. Rick Perry, has plenty of public sector experience, but he previously took the position that his future agency (the Department of Energy) ought to be wiped off the map.

Beyond leaders, agencies need congressional authorization and funding to function. And yet, because the agencies lack political leaders beyond the midlevel transition teams deployed after the inauguration, they are woefully behind in preparing budgets for President Trump to submit to Congress. In years past, Presidents Bush and Obama submitted their budgets within a few weeks of taking office, thanks to Herculean amounts of work by their transition teams to develop detailed fiscal plans. These teams understood that the budget submission was the key to execution of their policy agenda. It’s possible that the Trump team doesn’t understand that linkage between funding and policy. It’s also possible the Trump team doesn’t care if agencies get new budgets because its ultimate goal is to starve these agencies. If Congress continues to pass continuing resolutions that freeze funding at current levels, while the White House’s hiring and regulatory freezes remain in place, federal agencies will begin to shrink by attrition.

Agencies need people to do their jobs. The government is staffed by 2.6 million federal civilian and 1.4 million uniformed employees. Most new leaders would look for opportunities to engage their workforce and enlist them in their agenda. Not Trump, who has instead opted to attack parts of the federal workforce (like the intelligence community) while holding political rallies before others (the CIA and troops). Trump’s hiring freeze has signaled disdain to the federal civilian workforce, as have many of his Cabinet picks and congressional allies, who have continued to rail against the scourge of bureaucracy and bureaucrats.

Each of these forms of neglect advances the Bannon/Trump agenda of crippling the federal government. Unfortunately, we’re too busy paying attention to Russian intrigues, presidential conflicts of interest, and unconstitutional immigration policies to notice that the Trump team has already started its campaign to undo the state that has evolved since the New Deal to serve the American people.

We cannot ignore the scandals du jour. The Trump administration’s Russia ties represent a threat to national security and the rule of law; its immigration order threatens to tear apart the constitutional fabric that binds us together. However, we must see these scandals in context and stop Trump from leveraging our distraction to disassemble the government in front of our eyes.

Obama Legacy: Federal Civilian Workforce Soars to 2.79 Million After Years of Restraint — Government workers are among the least productive for the economy

August 9, 2016


 By Eric Pianin
August 9, 2016
In a dramatic government turnabout, the federal civilian workforce has grown for 13 consecutive months, and is now slightly larger than when President Obama first took office in early 2009, in the depths of the recession.


A new report by Government Executive says federal agencies that were once hamstrung by tight budget caps and across the board spending cuts that necessitated downsizing and temporary hiring freezes have picked up the pace in hiring new workers or filling long-standing vacancies.

The federal workforce has ebbed and flowed over the decades since World War II but rarely has seen a major addition of workers like this one.

For instance, federal departments and agencies added 41,000 workers in just the past year, including 3,000 in July. The overall federal workforce – including the U.S. Postal Service – totaled 2.79 million at the end of last month. That is the highest federal employment level since April 2013, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

Despite its ongoing financial problems and past downsizing, the USPS has been one of the most active agencies in terms of bringing on new workers. It currently employs 15,000 more workers than it did a year ago, according to Government Executive. Other non-postal agencies have added 26,000 jobs.

Related: Why Government and Innovation Are Like Oil and Water

The federal workforce has ebbed and flowed over the decades since World War II but rarely has seen a major change in overall scale in the past half century. The federal workforce has been a frequent target of government reform efforts under Democratic and GOP administrations that sought to downsize the government through attrition, outsourcing and privatizing federal services.

Obama, for instance, took office in 2009 vowing to reinvent government, including a scheme to save taxpayers $3 billion over ten years by consolidating six trade and commerce agencies into one new department and eliminating 2,000 superfluous jobs. But Republicans in Congress blocked the effort.

However, the federal employment level dropped significantly since enactment of the 2011 Budget Control Act, a bipartisan deal aimed at reining in spending by setting tough, legally enforceable budget caps.

When Congress and the Obama administration were unable to agree among themselves on how to meet the targets, that impasse triggered sequestration – or automatic across the board spending cuts – in March 2013.

The overall federal workforce bottomed out at 2,726,000 civilian workers in May 2014, which was the lowest number of federal workers over the past decade. Subsequent budget agreements reached in late 2013 and late 2015 blunted the impact of the Budget Control Act and paved the way for the renewed hiring.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.