U.S. EPA employees were in tears. Worried Energy Department staffers were offered counseling. Some federal employees were so depressed, they took time off. Others might retire early.
And some employees are in downright panic mode in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory.
"People are upset. Some people took the day off because they were depressed," said John O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, a union that represents thousands of EPA employees. After Election Day, "people were crying," added O’Grady, who works in EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago. "They were recommending that people take sick leave and go home."
EPA employees stand to see some of the most drastic changes under the Trump administration, and they may be taking things a bit harder than other government workers.
The president-elect has vowed to repeal some of the rules they’ve toiled on for the last eight years during the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan rule to cut power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump has even suggested abolishing the agency entirely, although that would be an uphill political climb. Trump has picked a top climate change skeptic to lead his EPA transition team — Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute — and has promised sweeping reforms in the agency that’s long been a target for industry groups and Republicans who say its rules overreach.
"If you look at the seven stages of grief, I’m still in denial. I will not look at the news. I will not read the news," said an EPA career employee.
Another EPA staffer said, "I don’t actually know anybody here that was supporting Trump." That person said people are "worried" that their work over the last eight years will be unraveled. "It’s always a time of uncertainty" when a new administration comes in, the employee said, and there were fears when the George W. Bush administration came into office, too. But "people are more worried this time," the person added.
Silvia Saracco, head of a union chapter that represents EPA employees in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, said, "There is a lot of angst out there, nervousness."
Some DOE employees are feeling glum, too.
"I think it’s a sadness and a worry about just how far someone will go, especially when you never believe anything he says," said one longtime Energy Department employee. "Many of us have worked in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, and I don’t think that we feel like it will be like just going back to Bush again."
The DOE employee added, "We know that now more than ever, it is important to do whatever we can to do a good job in the areas that we care about. … What we can do is not lose sight of whatever ideals brought us to this work in the first place."
One Fish and Wildlife Service employee witnessed "business as usual" after the election, although, "obviously, there was some surprise."
Most federal employees "will work for whomever is elected," that person said. "That’s just part of what I’ve always believed, that we should not be extremely emotional about it, certainly not in our public life."
There’s been speculation that many of Trump’s critics in the federal workforce might opt to leave or retire early.
"If [Trump] starts doing rotten things, then people will say, ‘Enough of this crap,’" said O’Grady. "You might see retirements from people who say, ‘Why bother working there anyway?’"
Saracco worked at EPA during the Reagan administration. "There was a big exodus" then, she said.
Several also noted that EPA has an aging workforce like other government agencies — about 31 percent of the federal workforce is eligible to retire. In addition, according to this year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, 3.57 percent of EPA employees plan to retire within the year, while another 10.76 percent plan to retire within one to three years.
"Whenever there is a change of administration, career officials that are retirement eligible take stock and decide what to do next, even if you agree with the party coming in," said Joe Edgell, senior vice president of National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 280, which also represents EPA employees.
"Do I think a lot of people are going to retire? Well, yeah," Edgell said. "Could it be higher than normal? We have to see what happens."
Government workers have expressed worry about a Trump victory in the past. A poll by the Government Business Council released earlier this year found that 14 percent of responding federal employees said they would consider leaving government service if the GOP nominee won, while another 11 percent answered "maybe" (Greenwire, Feb. 1).
By and large, agency employees say they and their colleagues are planning to stick around — at least for a while.
"They’re going to try to work from within as much as possible and do their job," Saracco said. "That’s what we’re supposed to do as civil servants, … not have people who politically are going back and forth."
She’s been trying to console worried workers by reminding them that they’ve lived through changing administrations before.
"We all have to keep in mind that we are federal employees, we swear allegiance to the Constitution, and we are executive branch employees. Whoever wins the election is who gives us the direction that we’re to go in. That’s our job," Saracco said.
She also cautioned that it isn’t clear yet what exactly a Trump administration will do in office.
"There’s a lot of rhetoric that takes place on the campaign trail. We all have to remember that," she said. "Let’s not assume we know. We need to see what’s going to happen."
EPA managers have stressed to staff to stay professional and work with Trump’s transition team. In an agencywide email after the election, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy emphasized that there should be a smooth transition (Greenwire, Nov. 9).
After Trump’s inauguration in January, "I will be coming to work and continue to be paid for the work that I do," said the career EPA employee. "Whether I like it, whether they like it, that remains to be seen."
Another EPA career employee said the agency has been able to function under prior Republican administrations.
"We have been through Reagan, got through [George W. Bush]. We will get through this."