McEldowney served as the director of the Foreign Service Institute and the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where she was in charge of training for the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies.
But when Donald Trump took over as president, McEldowney resigned and moved to Georgetown University.
Now, McEldowney is trying to advise those who haven’t gotten out of the administration on how to survive it. On Sunday, the Washington Post ran her latest piece, headlined, “How to work for a president who loathes the civil service.”
It’s unfair to say Trump loathes the civil service — he just thinks we could get by with a lot less of it and a lot less of our policymaking done by its denizens. The president requested a 32 percent cut to the State Department’s budget for development and diplomacy, and the administration has left hundreds of positions within the agency unfilled and has no plans to fill them.
“Derided by Trump advisers as ‘Obama holdovers’ and vilified by the president as members of a nefarious ‘deep state,’ federal employees are clearly perceived by the White House and its allies as a threat,” McEldowney writes in her piece.
“Many Trump Cabinet officials are openly hostile to the legislated mandates of their agencies and are slashing budgets and ousting personnel. Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services have entered truly Orwellian territory as Trump appointees attempt to ban terms such as ‘evidence-based,’ ‘science-based,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘climate change.’”
McEldowney suggests employees who remain in the federal government “hold the high ground,” by which she means to “uphold the most exacting standards of personal and professional integrity.”
This means following “all applicable rules, regulations and laws …” “no matter how bizarre the circumstances become or how flagrant the violations by the president, his family and cronies appear to be.”
It will feel ludicrous at times, she says, to file annual financial disclosures even as the president continues to refuse to divulge his tax returns. “But the more this administration transgresses, the more scrupulous the federal workforce must be …” so as to not to “further enable the corrosion of ethical norms and accountability standards.”
She further counsels to “lock the partisan trapdoor.” Many career officials have worked for administrations of both parties and are well-versed in the Hatch Act and the restrictions it imposes on partisan activity by federal workers. She said transition officials told her directly “of their intent to root out ‘liberal Democrats’ and ‘Hillary supporters’ from the federal workforce.”
Suggestions that deep-staters burrowed into agencies to thwart the Trump administration are “blatant efforts to discredit and delegitimize the workforce” and amount to “naked attempts at fear baiting.”
Takes notes and names, she said. The administration is changing policy, programs and personnel without “documenting the rationale or the intended outcomes,” she charged. Written instructions and comprehensive record-keeping are being “brushed aside in favor of word-of-mouth directives that are impossible to accurately source or effectively track.” It’s “critical to document lost capacities and discontinued services” so as to appeal for government expansion on the first day politically possible.
McEldowney said civil servants should not break the law and leak classified information, but “federal employees are expected to call out illicit, illegal and destructive activity – including by their agency’s leadership.”
She said employees should draw bright lines of what they will and won’t do and that they should challenge their politically appointed bosses whenever possible.
“This deeply flawed approach is guaranteed to produce bad policies.”