Benefits, Employee Rights Issues on Table as Trump Transition Picks Up Pace
Published: November 23, 2016
While most of the focus on the presidential transition so far has been on structuring the transition team and identifying nominees for the highest-level positions, attention now is turning to individual agencies. So-called “landing teams” have started going to agencies where they will set up shop, get briefings about program, budget and other issues, and prepare for the handover of authority. That process too is starting with larger agencies and working down to the smaller ones. One issue being watched everywhere is the identity of the landing team members and what that might say about the policy intentions of the new administration—transition team members advise new appointees and commonly later get appointments themselves. For federal employees, the key agency is OPM, whose first task likely will be the general hiring freeze that the Trump administration is expected to quickly impose, with certain exceptions that will need to be defined. Longer-term, proposals going to the heart of the civil service are expected; these potentially include reductions in employee rights to challenge discipline, cuts to health insurance and retirement benefits, and a move away from across-the-board annual raises. A long-standing idea to provide newly hired employees with only an enhanced TSP benefit and no defined-benefit annuity recently resurfaced on Capitol Hill. Conservative groups have been pushing that idea recently, along with tying raises more closely to an employee’s performance—an idea last tried on a wide scale during the Bush administration and then quickly repealed by the Obama administration. The transition team has had little to say on federal employee issues beyond the position papers released during the campaign advocating a general hiring freeze and giving the VA greater powers to discipline employees, although it said that “reforming the federal bureaucracy” was among the topics addressed in recent meetings involving Trump, Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and outside advisers. While a hiring freeze could be imposed by an administrative order, most of the other changes would require action by Congress. The background and views of the new team at OPM—as well as at OMB and the White House staff—will play an important role in how the administration proceeds on those issues, and in particular whether they can gather enough support from Senate Democrats to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to pass most legislation there. So far no one’s name is in circulation to become OPM director.