Bill Valdez

Message from Your SEA President

The Administration and Congress have been criticized for the slow pace of putting political appointees in place and the absence of major legislative victories, but one area where they are quickly building momentum is their assault on the civil service in general and the Senior Executive Service in specific.

Anyone who thinks that the VA Accountability Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in June, is an isolated event is not paying attention. Members of Congress have signaled that they view that flawed legislation as the opening salvo in a campaign to bring “accountability” to the civil service. 

Never mind that, as I wrote in an op-ed for The Hill, the challenges facing the VA were largely created by Congress and past Administrations. It’s always easier to blame the bureaucrats and pass legislation that won’t fix the problem, but will certainly generate plenty of headlines.

And now that the 120-day cooling off period before new political appointees can reassign SES is ending at most agencies, we are seeing the first wave of reassignments at agencies in the bullseye of sweeping Administration policy changes – such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the VA and the Department of Interior. Reassignments, when used properly, are a great way to spark change at an agency, but the evidence is mounting that many of the reassignments are punitive and won’t improve the functioning of the agency.

The real goal of the reassignments at some agencies appears to be to accomplish what Congress and the Administration can’t through legislation: kill programs that the Administration is opposed to but serve a longstanding public purpose, such as promoting sensible grazing rights on public lands or ensuring a clean environment. This is within the Administration’s power to do, but that doesn’t make it right from a public policy perspective.

For Congress and the Administration, the VA Accountability Act and the reassignments are a down payment on their promise to “drain the swamp” and transform the bureaucracy.   While this might make great political talking points, particularly with their base voters, they make little sense in terms of actually draining the swamp or improving the functioning of government.


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Tags: Message from Your SEA President, Bill Valdez, legislation, civil service reform, Trump Administration, Congress

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