Workforce

IG, legislators condemn Trump administration for attacks on career officials

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 15, 2019. (Image capture from C-SPAN broadcast) 

A report from the State Department's Office of the Inspector General asserts that former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, shown here testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 15, 2019, is one of several career employees targeted for political reasons.


As the impeachment inquiry wrapped up its second day of public testimonies, Nov. 14 saw the Department of State’s Office of the Inspector General publish a damning report about allegations the Trump administration had targeted and removed career federal officials for political reasons, and blocked the OIG from carrying out a full investigation.

In a statement, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Acting House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the report was “disturbing” and that the “the Trump Administration does not have the right to attack career employees who dedicate their lives to our nation—especially not as part of some sort of ill-conceived and groundless political ‘cleaning’ operation.”

The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and other policies enshrined in State Department policy mandate that federal employment hiring decisions must be based on merit and not for political reasons or other rationale. In a timeline provided by the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Trump administration had allegedly begun targeting employees for removal who were holdovers from the previous Obama administration as early as Dec. 2016, after which the Committee on Oversight and Reform ordered an investigation.

The OIG report explored five instances in which career employees were allegedly removed from their jobs for political reasons. In one case, an aide had been in the federal government since 2005, at the State Department since 2012, and was assigned to the Office of Policy Planning in 2016. After a conservative news outlet reported that she was born in Iran and had worked under the Obama administration, the employee’s detail was prematurely ended amid questions of her nationality and loyalty to the U.S. and President Trump, according to the report.

Other policies in place at the State Department prevented discrimination against officials on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation, marital status, or sexual orientation.” While political beliefs could be taken into consideration when an administration is considering filling a position with a political appointee, they could not be applied to career officials who were protected under the merit principles system. The report also stated that career officials could be removed from their positions, but only under guidelines such as changes in staffing needs or shifts in priorities, not because of non-merit reasons.

The report and statement from Reps. Engel and Maloney also alleged that the State Department failed to protect its employees and actively obstructed the OIG from being able to carry out a full investigation. “Secretary Pompeo has demonstrated that he is unwilling to protect his own employees from the President’s political attacks,” the statement said, specifically citing Trump’s attacks on former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

According to both the report and timeline, the State Department ignored the OIG’s requests for information and did not provide a timely response when the OIG presented it with the report in August. The response ultimately came on Oct. 30.

About the Author

Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.

Contact Lia at lrussell@fcw.com and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.


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