An Open Letter to Career Civil Servants:
We need your help putting the country back together.
We need you to tell us what you saw, and who you saw doing it. We need a return to accountability, which means holding the people who are even now subverting our government — not to mention our democracy — accountable.
We know that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of crimes were committed in the last four years, but we have only the bare outlines of who, what, when, where, and how. We need you to fill in the blanks.
We address you as career civil servants, not to categorize you, but to distinguish you from the hacks and ideologues you’ve been forced to report to and work with. We know they were imposed on you. We assume you weren’t happy about it.
You’re the ones who understood how your agencies were supposed to run, regardless of the party in power. You’re the ones who were forced to implement outrageous changes in policies and procedures, all with underlying political agendas. Who were surely backed into ethical and even legal corners you could not have been prepared for, and are still wrestling with.
You, more than most, are the real witnesses to the bottomless depravities that define the Trump presidency.
We know your career paths can’t be generalized — that the experience of working in the State Department is vastly different from that of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or Justice (DOJ), or Homeland Security (DHS), or any of the hundreds of agencies that make up the federal government. We also know that the pernicious effects of this administration’s appointees will vary widely from agency to agency.
But we think you’ll agree that the government has been damaged. That important people have been forced from key positions. That institutional knowledge and memory have been lost. That crucial data has been compromised, destroyed, or stolen. That our ability to respond to crisis has sunk to dangerous lows.
Even we, as outsiders, can see this. We need look no further than this catastrophic response to the pandemic. It’s out front and in our faces. Even now, we’re watching the vaccine rollout get botched in real time.
And if we can see it from the outside, we can only imagine what you’ve seen from the inside.
Many of you have seen your agencies decapitated, with seasoned and dedicated professionals replaced by Trump loyalists who were at best incompetent and at worst thieves and saboteurs.
Many of you have had to work side by side with people appointed, not to promote the aims of your agencies, but to undermine them.
Many of you have been coerced — at the risk of your jobs — to cooperate in this process. You’ve seen subpoenas ignored, funds misappropriated, policies bent to cynically political purposes. You’ve seen the whole concept of oversight devolve into a joke.
Many of you have been forced to do things that were ethically abhorrent, and which have pushed you to the edge — or over the edge — of what’s legal.
There are plenty of people eager to hear what you have to say. Some are in law enforcement. Some are in Congress. Some are in the media. All are concerned citizens. All want to see sunlight focused on this dark patch of American history — but they’ll settle for names and dates. Plus any photos or videos you might happen to have.
The next few weeks are especially fraught. You know these people. You know how vicious they are. They came to do damage, and that’s just what they’ll keep doing, right up to the stroke of midnight on Inauguration Day.
So we need you to keep an eye on them on their way out the door. You are uniquely positioned to be vigilant. Please take steps to preserve records, document what you can, and report anyone who steps over the line.
Trump’s blizzard of executive orders is still raging. And while the orders themselves appear haphazard, the overriding objectives are clear: Cover the tracks. Gum up the works. Impair the government wherever possible. Enfeeble the incoming administration, then blame it for being enfeebled.
Nobody faults you for staying in your job — for protecting your paycheck and ensuring your family’s security. It has surely been a harrowing four years, and we applaud you for making it through. We understand if you don’t want to talk about it.
But things were done — and are most likely still being done — that leave us seriously weakened as a country.
This is inexcusable. And the people responsible must not be excused.