Biden’s ‘build back, better’ can’t even begin until the mess Trump made of government is cleared

One of their options is trying to bring back the staff that Trump and team forced out during the past four years, either directly or through totally politicizing and poisoning their departments. Bringing back staff with experience and expertise will help them rebuild and normalize operations more quickly. But it’s not just filling the massive vacancies, it’s supporting the people who stuck it out and have been traumatized. For example, the staff of social workers who spent their careers helping immigrants in the Department of Health and Human Services’ refugee office who were forced to work with ICE in immigration crackdowns and deportations, taking custody of the thousands of children separated from their parents. “For the last four years, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has been forced to operate as a junior partner in immigration enforcement,” Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, said. “That was fundamentally counter to its mission as an agency, and the challenge for new people coming in is to restore its mission in service to children.”

Other career officials, particularly those who pushed back against Trump in health, environment, and energy were shoved out of their positions into areas out of their expertise and where they couldn’t fight back. Others have seen their agencies packed with Trump political appointees to create barriers between them and Congress to hamper their ability to work with lawmakers. “They basically didn’t want anyone in the career staff getting their hands on information,” said Matthew Davis, who worked both as a health scientist at the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection and at the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations. “They built up this large number of political appointees in congressional affairs particularly, so the career officials didn’t handle oversight requests.” Which means that there will be career staff in place who really don’t know a lot of what was going on in their own departments, because Trump’s political appointees were carrying on without them.

Then there’s the Food and Drug Administration, where many staff felt they had to stay on to try to protect the nation—particularly during the pandemic—even while Trump was constantly attacking the agency. The priority now, a source told the Post, is trying to normalize and professionalize the agency again, rebuilding morale. “The constant pushback needed and the number of times the agency was overruled were both exhausting and demoralizing,” a senior official said. The staff that stayed are scarred, but the official also said that morale will quickly be rebuilt by simply allowing science and professionalism to guide their work again.

Then there’s the State Department and national security. Brett Bruen, a former Foreign Service officer who’s remained in contact with people there says that State is in “deep disrepair […] There has got to be a massive investment in the personnel and infrastructure of diplomacy.” The treatment of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was a breaking point for many in the foreign service, and the packing of political appointees into the ambassador corps, instead of elevating foreign service officers, was demoralizing. “We hope that the new administration will return to historical norms in terms of the percentage of political appointees named to senior positions, and will ensure that all nominees are fully qualified,” said Ambassador Eric Rubin, a career diplomat and president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. diplomats. “That unfortunately has not been the case in recent years.”

Returning to business as usual will help in many instances. But it’s going to take a very long time for normal to come back to the government, and an even longer time to undo all the damage Trump wrought.

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