Steve Bannon’s job might be in jeopardy, but the Trump administration’s efforts to “deconstruct the administrative state” are continuing apace. Politico reporters Ian Kullgren and Matthew Nussbaum write that the administration sent out a 14-page memo this week asking the heads of federal agencies to figure out which employees they want to lay off. The EPA, in particular, is in budget director Mick Mulvaney’s crosshairs: “Everybody acknowledges,” he told Politico, “given the proposed reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency in the budget, they would have to reduce the size of their workforce.”
The administrative state, for its part, is not too happy about its deconstruction. Morale at agencies is low — and that’s prompting some career employees to make their exit. Earlier this month, Michael Cox, a 25-year veteran of the EPA became an internet hero when he sent his boss, Scott Pruitt, a resignation letter detailing the many ways Trump’s EPA administrator was bad at his job and, ultimately, failing to uphold the mission of his agency. Cox wrote:
"I have worked under six administrations with political appointees leading EPA from both parties. This is the first time I remember staff openly dismissing and mocking the environmental policies of an administration and by extension you, the individual selected to implement the policies."
Among Cox’s reasons for discontent are, for starters, Pruitt’s sometimes-denial of the science around climate change, the largest issue his agency is/was working to confront. Other problems: Pruitt’s contention that the Paris Climate Agreement is a “bad deal,” the president’s promise to coal miners that his polices will bring back their jobs (they won’t), and the fact that Pruitt has hired several staffers from the office of Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe (he of the snowball).
One of the final straws for Cox was an email Pruitt’s office sent out on the day Trump trekked over to EPA headquarters to announce an executive order rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the lynchpin of America’s efforts to confront climate change. Here’s Cox again:
"The email headline that greeted EPA staff on Tuesday March 28 was 'Our Big Day Today.' The question many of us had was who is 'our' referring too? Was it the many EPA career staff that worked for years developing the work that was rescinded or revoked? Was it the EPA career staff that should be jubilant the president came to EPA to poke a finger in our eye (or as many people indicated, to give us the finger)? Was it the fossil fuel industry that will benefit most from the president’s action? Or was it the coal miners present at the event who are being given false hope their jobs are coming back?"
After 25 years at the agency, no one can begrudge Cox his retirement. But for others, simply staying at the agency and continuing to show up to work — even as Trump seeks to reverse Obama-era climate actions, and the agency deletes years of critical climate-related research — has become a way of keeping the agency’s mission alive. “I try to tell people that staying and doing your job at this point in history is an act of resistance, that if they leave, we will wind up with gaps in the system,” one former EPA staffer, whose colleagues have been asking him for advice on whether or not to quit, told the Los Angeles Times.
One sign of resistance from within is the “rogue” and “alt” agency social media accounts that have cropped up. Not all are run by government employees, but some are. In March, the Intercept’s Alleen Brown spoke with some of the people behind these accounts, which include Twitter handles such as @RogueEPAstaff, @blm_alt for the Bureau of Land Management, and the Alt National Park Service Facebook page. “I wanted to make sure we had a conduit to the outside world now that we were being held hostage,” an administrator of the @RogueEPAstaff account told Brown. “If they do try to undo things that are an important part of the country’s effort to act on climate change or protect human health, I don’t want them to be able to do that without somebody calling them on it.”
These accounts have been urging Americans to take action to push back against Trump’s polices through events like the upcoming climate march and by commenting through official channels on Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama’s climate change agenda.
And at least some of them have attracted the administration’s attention. Last week, The Intercept’s Sam Biddle reported that the Department of Homeland Security attempted to expose the identity of whoever is behind @ALT_USCIS, a Twitter account that gives a dissenting line on the new immigration policy. Customs and Border Protection sent a summons to Twitter demanding that the company hand over all records related to the account; Twitter replied that it would need to see a court order before releasing that information. “No such court order would be obtained,” a Customs and Border Protection agent wrote back.
So, Twitter took CBP to court. In its lawsuit, the company asked the court to rule that “the CBP Summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users.” The next day, the Department of Homeland Security decided to withdraw its summons.