As United States politics have become increasingly polarized, federal employees are getting caught in the crossfire. You might expect political backlash against political appointees. It’s hardly shocking that others see political ties between these employees and the officials who appointed them. But career employees are supposed to be safe from such political ties. Sadly, they’re not.
A recent report on NPR exposed the ways that career employees have been attacked by fringe groups. Those groups have influenced decisionmakers, and some employees have lost their jobs as the result of unfair smear campaigns.
Are you a part of the deep state?
According to the Office of Personnel Management, there are just over 2.1 million civilian federal employees. Only about 4,000 of these people are political appointees. The vast majority are career employees. These people serve their jobs with the idea they’ll work through more than one administration. They don’t devote themselves to politicians but to the United States, its agencies and their duties.
Yet, as NPR reported, some of these employees have been targeted by political attacks. Different groups have focused on the work these employees did during earlier administrations. These fringe organizations mischaracterize the employees’ work and accuse them of being part of a “deep state” government. Stories start flying that the workers aim to sabotage current policies.
The problem is that some of these attacks have succeeded. Some of these employees have been fired.
Career employees should expect merit-based advancement or discipline
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report in which it found that a State Department employee had been fired improperly for political reasons. In the report, the OIG explored five claims of politicized employment decisions. The employees in question were all career employees and subject to the merit system advanced by the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978.
As the OIG noted, the Civil Service Reform Act was written to “ensure fair and open recruitment and competition, and employment practices free of political influence or other non-merit factors.” In other words, political attacks aren’t supposed to influence the careers of employees who aren’t political appointees.
The OIG found that officials in the State Department had improperly fired one employee. But in two other cases, it found “no discussion of the personnel decisions” that supported the employees’ claims. In two more cases, the OIG was unable to offer opinions because it lacked key evidence from key decisionmakers.
Serve your career based on your merits
As a federal employee, the Civil Service Reform Act doesn’t just apply to your hiring and firing. It also applies to your assignments and reviews. Your merits should drive your career, not politics.