By LISA REIN
President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are drawing up plans to take on the government bureaucracy they have long railed against, by eroding job protections and grinding down benefits that federal workers have received for a generation.
Hiring freezes, an end to automatic raises, a green light to fire poor performers, a ban on union business on the government’s dime and less generous pensions — these are the contours of the blueprint emerging under Republican control of Washington in January.
These changes were once unthinkable to federal employees, their unions and their supporters in Congress. But Trump’s election as an outsider promising to shake up a system he told voters is awash in “waste, fraud and abuse” has conservatives optimistic that they could do now what Republicans have been unable to do in the 133 years since the civil service was created.
“You have the country moving to the right and being much more anti-Washington than it was,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a leading Trump adviser who serves on the president-elect’s transition team.
“We’re going to have to get the country to understand how big the problem is, the human costs of it and why it’s absolutely essential to reform,” said Gingrich, who urged Trump to shrink big government and overhaul the “job-for-life” guarantee of federal work.
Top Republicans on Capitol Hill say their first priority will be making it easier to fire employees regarded as incompetent or who break the rules.
“It’s nearly impossible to fire somebody,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “When the overwhelming majority do a good job and the one bad apple is there viewing pornography, I want people to be held accountable.”
Chaffetz said he plans to push through wholesale changes to the generous retirement benefits that federal workers receive, by shifting to a market-driven, 401(k)-style plan for new employees.
“We have a Republican president who will help us drive this to the finish line,” Chaffetz said.
The promises go hand in hand with Trump’s promise to shrink the size and reach of government, from eliminating some agencies outright to lifting regulations and running the bureaucracy with fewer people.
Gingrich said the Trump administration probably would look for guidance from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who stripped public employee unions of most of their collective-bargaining rights and forced workers to pay more into their pensions and for health care in what became a bitter political fight.
The White House also can look for lessons from policies advocated by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
As Indiana governor, Pence battled public employee unions and approved pay increases for state workers who receive good performance reviews, a strategy tried at the Defense Dept. under President George W. Bush but which was poorly managed and eventually abolished.
The pay-for-performance idea is nonetheless a rebuke to the government’s system of raises based on longevity.
“We’re going to be playing defense for at least a couple of years,” acknowledged William Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees.
A longer version of this article appeared in The Washington Post on Nov. 21.