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How to Really Drain the Swamp: Reform Federal Employment Rules

President-elect Trump campaigned on the promise of changing the culture in Washington, D.C. and to “drain the swamp.” This was in reference to elected officials, as many get to Washington and can do nothing while knowing that their chances of facing a stiff reelection challenge are slim to none. Trump proposed his own set of reforms that were designed to make government more effective and to work for the people. However, while draining the swamp, these refinements would not address the problems of a bloated government. The swamp might have been drained, but plenty of sticks in the mud will remain. To tackle this problem, Donald Trump should be bold and reform the federal bureaucracy, particularly federal workers.

This reform needs to focus on reducing waste, redundancy and the way in which the federal government treats its employees. It will not be particularly popular with federal workers, but it is necessary for our tax dollars to be used far better than they are now.

First, President-elect Trump should propose a sweeping review that would evaluate federal offices just like a company that wants to improve itself. In this review, efficiency experts would seek to find the instances where there are more government workers than need be in any and all departments. This will help to find ways that we can ensure that we receive a better return on investment for our tax dollars.

While most federal employees take their jobs for unselfish reasons, many become “lifers” who hold the same position for the length of their career and therefore do just enough to keep their jobs. There is absolutely nothing wrong being a lifer in a federal agency, but doing so by just “getting by” benefits nobody. It creates a pseudo-welfare structure within the government. We must tackle the incentive structures we offer government workers for the jobs they do.

Federal employees receive regular pay increases linked to time spent in the job, not actual job performance. It is a system that disincentivizes federal workers from doing a good job. Why would they want to do the best job they can when they will get the same reward for doing the bare minimum? President-elect Trump should make federal employee performance, not longevity, the most important factor when determining federal employee pay raises.

In addition to Trump reforming the “carrot” end of performance standards, it is imperative that he fix the way the “stick” works, as it simply does not. Currently, it is rather difficult to be fired by the federal government. The joke in many circles that short of being convicted for murder, your federal job is safe. If a government agency wants to fire someone, there are endless hoops to go through. They must demonstrate cause, then the fired employee is entitled to appeal the decision and so on and so forth. It is such a long and arduous process that the agencies themselves do not want to bother going through it.

The solution is simple: President-elect Trump imposes at-will employment of all federal workers. This would enable federal agencies to fire employees without cause or prior notice. It cuts through the layers upon layers of bureaucracy that have been implemented to protect the jobs of federal workers at the expense of government tax dollars and efficiency.

Finally, we must end the bloat and excess caused by the unnecessarily high number of federal employees. Under President Obama, the size of the federal workforce has grown by 10 percent since he took office. One cause? Many government offices hire twenty people per department when three highly-motivated workers would do as good, if not a better job. President-elect Trump should direct every federal agency to utilize the new at-will employment policy that he has put in place to reduce the excess number of employees within their agencies.

Federal workers and their unions like the American Federation of Government Employees will fight all of these reforms tooth and nail. They see it as a direct threat to their cushy way of life. Unfortunately, the way the government has built its protections and policies for the federal workforces has unintentionally made them part of the problem. They drain government resources that could be better used rebuilding our infrastructure, making entitlements solvent, investing in our broken education system, or providing real care for our neglected veterans.

President-elect Trump has said he wants to fix our broken government. There is no better place to start than the federal workforce.

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