Congress and this administration are failing Americans miserably. We have witnessed three severe hurricanes that made landfall on U.S. soil, which created humanitarian crises and required the grave need for recovery. Yet, Congress and this administration seem proud as peacocks that they are cutting the budget and staffing levels for the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress is using a hatchet to downsize the EPA, turning their oath into a lie as they ignore the needs of our neighbors in the southern states and Puerto Rico. Further, Congress and this administration continue to ignore reports by the American Society of Civil Engineers on America’s crumbling foundation, failing to invest in infrastructure and risking the economic well-being, safety and health of all Americans.
What is the role of the federal government? The answer would seem rather obvious. Though, it is also about as polarizing as the current state of U.S. politics. One of the most important and sacred duties of government is to care for the well-being of its citizens. Employees of the EPA are dedicated to the mission given to it by Congress – to protect human health and the environment. EPA employees rely on rigorous and peer-reviewed science to validate that Americans have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and land that is safe for our children. However, employees at the EPA can only promote the general welfare of citizens when the legislative and executive branches of government allocate funds to safeguard the fundamental needs of its citizens. Despite inadequately funding the proposed 2018 federal budget and threatening to consolidate regional offices and fire thousands of public employees and other essential staff, this White House has severely weakened the functions of government, and more Americans are vulnerable.
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Some partisans in Washington are scapegoating our dedicated federal workers and baselessly accusing them of “waste, fraud and abuse,” notwithstanding decades of honorable and nonpartisan service on behalf of the safety of all Americans. Today’s labor force at the EPA must perform “The People’s Work” free from political interference.
While some politicians would threaten those jobs, and mischaracterize the dignity of public service, those essential roles within government institutions are among the highest callings in America. Portraying them as nameless, faceless bureaucrats, this administration fails to value public employees. Governing.com estimates the federal government has more than 2 million full-time employees, excluding the Postal Service. Instead of being employed by private industry, which promises higher-paying jobs as engineers, scientists, lawyers, biologists and more, the livelihoods of every public servant in the United States must not be undervalued.
However, there is one last offense that is worse than the others combined. Cutting the EPA’s staff and budget hurts veterans. So, despite all the rhetoric about how much Congress and this administration value America’s military men and women — past and present — veterans are perhaps the largest group of citizens directly impacted by the proposed budget and staffing cuts. Repeatedly, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has endorsed these arbitrary reductions. Almost one-third (more than 30.9 percent) of all federal employees are veterans, as approximately 25 percent of the EPA’s jobs are on the chopping block.
Using extreme prejudice against public employees, this White House would put the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of federal workers. What does that say about the values of members of Congress and this administration? Does a government by the people and for the people care about our veterans? Are they truly concerned about children with asthma and the elderly? Shamelessly, some politicians push a false agenda about the role of government, and propose, in the words of Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, to getting it “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” They do not appreciate the contributions made by career civil servants, and pretend that privatization, industry, and the so-called free market could do the jobs better and at a lower cost. Well, they cannot. Lastly, the role of the government is to protect its citizens. Period. Full Stop.
John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals #238, representing more than 9,000 bargaining-unit employees at the U.S. EPA nationwide.
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