"Get with the program": Sean Spicer's ultimatum to State Department civil servants sends a message to federal workers

The White House press secretary had strong words for the "dissent channel" that criticized Trump's travel ban

Published January 31, 2017 3:40PM (EST)

 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

After a document opposing President Trump's executive order on immigration circulated the State Department, White House press secretary Sean Spicer offered diplomats an ultimatum: "Either get with the program or they can go."

A reported 1,000 diplomats have signed a "dissent channel," an instrument that empowers State Department employees to express disagreement on a policy concern without fear of any retribution.

The administration's response to this criticism was to rebuke the diplomats who have not fallen in line. During a press briefing Monday, Spicer suggested that "career bureaucrats" who signed the memo should no longer serve in the government.

“This is about the safety of America, and there’s a reason that a majority of Americans agree with the president,” Spicer said. “They should understand it’s his number one priority.”

While national security might have been the purported logic behind the newest executive order, career government servants who are experts in international affairs and diplomacy believe President Trump's action was harmful and potentially dangerous. Spicer does not seem to value their opinion.

“If somebody has a problem with that agenda, then that does call into question whether . . . they should continue in that post or not,” Spicer said. “I know the president appreciates the people who serve this nation and the public servants. That’s up to them to question whether or not they want to stay."

Debra D'Agostino, a partner at the Federal Practice Group, which provides federal employees legal counsel, told The Washington Post that former active attorney general Sally Yates, who Trump fired after she defied his order, may have broken the golden rule:

"The golden rule remains ‘comply now, complain later,' even where there is substantial reason to believe that an order or policy is improper, or an employee can face discipline or removal for a charge of insubordination. Under current MSPB [Merit Systems Protection Board] case law, the employee must obey an order, and then challenge its validity, except in ‘extreme or unusual circumstances’ in which the employee would be placed in a clear danger or which would cause irreparable harm to the employee, or, presumably, the safety of the public."

Despite the rule, current federal employees have already shown a willingness to dissent.

By Taylor Link

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Diplomats Sean Spicer State Department White House Press Secretary