Labor secretary Tom Perez, who is currently in the running for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has condemned President-elect Donald Trump for what he believes are illegal questions targeting Department of Energy employees based on whether they've worked to address man-made climate change.
"Those questions have no place in a transition," Perez said according to CBS News on Tuesday. "That is illegal."
Perez expressed concern that the Trump transition team's questionnaire indicated that career employees might be persecuted for their work on policies with which the president-elect disagrees.
"Will dedicated career people be targeted because they were doing the right work?" Perez said.
The Trump transition team initially responded to Perez’s comments in a statement saying that "the transition has a memorandum of understanding in place with the administration, and we continue to uphold both of our ends in this agreement."
A Trump official responded Wednesday, telling CNN, "The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol . . . The person who sent it has been properly counseled."
While the Trump team may have difficulty outright terminating the employment of Energy Department officials based on whether they worked on addressing man-made climate change — civil service protections exist to protect them from precisely this type of political retribution — that doesn't mean the inquiry couldn't damage their careers in other ways.
"A greater concern would be that selected employees could be marginalized, i.e., ignored, by new leadership at the department solely based on unfounded conjecture that those employees cannot be trusted by the new political team," said John Palguta, a civil service expert, in an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month. "The consequences for contract employees could be greater if a future decision not to renew a contract is influenced by the same unsupported speculation."