Is there a “deep state” trying to undermine President Trump? Do federal workers have some kind of secret policy or political agenda?
Increasingly, such questions have become part of our national debate, particularly in respect to the Trump administration’s recent attacks on federal civil servants who have shined a light on possible wrongdoing by others in the government — including the president.
Accusing these public servants of treason or being part of a “deep state” conspiracy serves to undermine the integrity of the day-to-day work done for this country by over 2 million Federal employees and almost 1.3 million active military personnel. These are the people who ensure our food is safe to eat, issue Social Security checks, forecast the weather, operate national parks and historic sites, protect our clean air and water, provide relief from natural disasters, fight crime and defend us from foreign attacks.
Whether they are a civil servant or a member of the uniformed services, everyone who enters federal government service must swear that she or he “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This oath, codified in law, provides the moral and legal compass for our federal government. It demands loyalty to the set of principles upon which our country was founded – our Constitution – not to any given person. This is no accident. Having had enough of divine rights under the rule of kings, our Founding Fathers were keen to avoid placing unlimited powers, authority, and loyalty in one person.
As retired federal managers with a combined 70 years of experience in the military, and executive and congressional branches of government, we have seen this oath upheld by thousands of our peers in government, through both Republican and Democratic administrations. Inevitably, there were times when we or our colleagues may have personally disagreed with a given policy or order, but as long as it was within the bounds of the laws that Congress passed and the executive branch was charged with implementing – we did our job.
In 1978, Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act to underscore and further strengthen the foundations of public service. The Act declares: “Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” Since then, a series of ethics guidelines have provided a more detailed road map for civil servants and political appointees alike to avoid conflicts of interest that could undermine the public’s trust in government. The Whistleblower Protection Act followed in 1989, giving all employees, public and private, safeguards against retaliation when they report wrongdoing.
The federal employee who blew the whistle on the President Trump’s call to Ukraine was following the basic oath of federal office. To borrow from a popular catchphrase, this whistleblower said something when they saw something, and followed both their conscience and their public oath.
There is no “deep state” operating to prevent this — or any — president from carrying out his or her duties. What is at work is much simpler: it is the sometimes mundane but often critical actions of federal employees who faithfully perform their duties and refuse to lie or violate the trust we have placed in them. No wonder a president who does not seem to grasp the importance of truth and public trust is frustrated with the federal workforce. He has only the Constitution to blame.