For Immediate Release: Thursday, March 5, 2020
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Post-Impeachment Drive to Root out Disloyal Officials Should Be Enjoined
Washington, DC — Post-impeachment pledges by top White House officials to find and remove federal employees deemed insufficiently loyal to President Trump are both harmful and illegal and should be halted, according a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The complaint contends that any move to impose a political litmus test on government workers is contrary to the core protections undergirding the federal merit system.
The complaint focuses on statements made by Hogan Gidley, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary, in a February 24, 2020 Fox News interview in which he said:
“It’s not a secret that we want people in positions that work with this president, not against him, and too often we have people in this government – I mean the federal government is massive, with millions of people – and there are a lot people out there taking action against this president and when we find them we will take appropriate action.”
Mr. Gidley went on to equate political loyalty to the President to being “loyal to our country.” His statements come on top of media reports that the administration is assembling “deep state” hit lists of employees to fire.
“The mere threat of a political purge creates a chilling effect on public servants and should not be tolerated,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, a former federal attorney. “The Office of Special Counsel is charged with investigating and redressing precisely these sorts of attacks on basic merit principles.”
The PEER complaint points out that Gidley’s threats appear to violate federal laws prohibiting –
- Employment discrimination based on political preference rather than performance;
- “Favoritism, or coercion for partisan political purposes”; and
- “Reprisal” or any adverse action “for the refusal of any person to engage in such political activity.”
The Trump White House has already removed officials who testified in House hearings leading to the impeachment vote and has reportedly transferred others suspected of disloyalty.
“This is a threat clearly directed against civil servants,” added Whitehouse, noting that PEER represents a number of whistleblowers in the environment and public health agencies who have suffered retaliatory personnel actions already for expressing scientific findings and opinions contrary to the current administration’s preferred view of the facts. “The creation of the federal civil service was one of the major governmental reforms of the 19th century, but today we seem to be teetering on the edge of a return to the political spoils system.”