President Trump plans to take the huge federal Civil Service off cruise control, ending automatic pay increases that go to 99.7 percent of the workforce, trimming fat benefit packages, and for the “worst,” rolling out his trademark phrase from The Apprentice, “You’re fired!”
In his budget, set for release Monday, his administration is planning the biggest reform to the federal workforce in decades, using models from Amazon, Google, and a handful of well-operating agencies.
Officials said the overall goal is to bring the 1950s-styled Civil Service into the digital age, introduce automation, reward “the best” with bonuses, make it easier to hire and fire, and provide “flexibility” by moving employees where they are needed and even rehiring skilled retirees.
Gone would be the automatic reward of pay “step” increases of 3 percent to 5 percent which 99.7 percent of workers get, regardless of their performance. Also targeted, said the officials, are annual reviews that now give “everybody” a grade of four or five on a scale of five. And benefits, now 47 percent higher than in the private workforce, according to a congressional report, will be trimmed.
“This is a subject that essentially people have ignored,” said a top Trump budget official at a background briefing. “The American people elected a president that promised dramatic change.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump called for a smaller, more efficient federal government and he repeated that in his State of the Union Address. "Tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people," he said.
Reforms have been introduced in the past but opposition from the biggest workforce in the country often puts up a good fight. This time, officials stressed that there is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for the needed legal changes to make the reforms, backing by federal unions and even encouragement in agencies who feel bad workers are rewarded and good ones are ignored.
The proposed changes are part of a broader effort to modernize the government and integrate the types of innovation that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is drafting.
The officials, speaking on background, did not say how large or small they expect the bureaucracy to be after the three-year reform effort, but it was clear that many workers in jobs that private industry has automated will be out.
And it was also clear that the workforce will be younger, mobile and more tech-savvy. Several times the officials noted that the Civil Services was created at a time when secretarial help was key and now higher-educated IT employees are needed.
“We’re 18 years into the digital millennium. We need to look at a different way,” said a budget official.
Among the changes proposed:
- Creation of a bonus pool to reward good employees.
- An end to so-called “step increases,” pay hikes of 3 percent to 5 percent that 99.7 percent of federal workers get even if they are poor performers.
- Changes to the overall pay package, with a focus on generous retirement benefits, that align federal pay to the private world.
- Retraining of employees.
- Redeploying workers where they are needed.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com