In 2011 conservative commentator and failed Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan wrote in a blog post that President Obama created a federal workforce rife with a “race-based spoils system.”
President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to downsize the federal workforce, nearly 20 percent of which is Black. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)
“Now, as White folks are two-thirds of the U.S. population, and perhaps three-fourths of those in the 45 to 65 age group who would normally be at senior federal positions, why is this ‘a problem’?” wrote Buchanan arguing against the Obama administration’s executive order for more federal workforce diversity. “Why is the color of their skin a ‘problem’ for Barack Obama?”
Fast forward five years and Buchanan’s racially-charged umbrage with federal agency diversity is more relevant in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. Trump plans sweeping changes to the federal workforce, which could have far-reaching and disproportionately negative consequences on Black federal employees and their communities.
“We do have concerns over racial discrimination in reference to hiring, promotions and awards, and lack of accountability from agencies when EEO cases are won, in addition to the new tactics for removal of people of color (such as security clearance, time and attendance, and performance),” Blacks in Government National President Darlene Young and Vice President Doris Sartor told the AFRO in an email. “We believe the impact of downsizing the federal government will have a severe impact on Black Americans who are already struggling for economic stability and advancement against racism, disparate treatment, and favoritism.”
Various proposals are on the table, with the President-elect vowing to enforce a campaign-trail promise to “drain the swamp” or to rid Washington, D.C. of rampant corruption as he sees it. While initial impressions of the statement focus on the national capitol’s unpopular circuit of lobbyists, full-time politicians, and influence-peddlers, Trump transition members, policy advisers, and loyal surrogates are actually working closely with Congressional Republicans on plans to actively downsize the broader 2.1 million employee federal workforce.
That’s one of six key “measures to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, D.C.” including “a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health).” But, “attrition” could also entail a number of other dramatic proposals such as the end of automatic pay raises (or “step increases”), easier employee termination procedures, and a significant reduction of federal employee benefits. These measures present fresh rounds of uncertainty for Black federal workers.
Nearly 20 percent of the federal workforce is Black. A number of large metropolitan areas and states with heavy Black population centers, including Black middle-class corridors in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and elsewhere, could find themselves in dire economic straits should Trump federal workforce policies go into full effect – with Congressional Republican blessing.
Public sector work has long been relied upon as a pillar of Black upward mobility. For generations since Reconstruction, Blacks have viewed local, state and federal government work as a less-troubled path to greater professional development and middle-class living standards.
That’s never been an easy goal. Blacks file one out of every four workplace discrimination complaints, according to a 2015 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission report.
Constant racial harassment and barriers to promotional advancement are routine challenges.
Massive budget cuts to state and local governments since 2009 have had a severe impact on Blacks, who bore the brunt of nearly 500,000 public sector job losses due to the Great Recession – 265,000 alone in 2011. That contributed to much higher Black unemployment rates through the recession. And the federal Office of Personnel Management found that more than 150,000 Black federal workers were furloughed during the last 2013 federal government shutdown.
“People of color are not only suffering the consequences of partisan gridlock in Washington but are also bearing the brunt of cuts in services,” wrote Center for American Progress policy analyst Farah Ahmad in an examination of the last shutdown. That’s “including delays in obtaining Federal Housing Administration home-buying loans, and economic losses to small businesses that rely on federal workers’ patronage, such as restaurants and lost access to Head Start programs for children.”
Federal workforce hiring freezes and attrition would have immediate and rather visible financial effects on states with large Black populations and communities heavily reliant on the flow of federal dollars. Maryland and Virginia are the top two considering their close proximity to Washington, D.C. Other states such as Georgia, California, Texas, and Florida – all states that rely on agencies such as the CDC, NASA, military bases, or military and federal support entities – are also major economic hubs for Black workers. The proposed downsizing comes, ironically, at a time when federal government agencies are warning of impending staffing shortages due to federal employee retirements.