Donald Trump has no interest in good government. Not surprising, since he has no interest in anything other than himself. His anti-government policies are designed to keep his base engaged by conjuring new lies and wild conspiracy theories to add to his lengthening litany of grotesqueries.
Much of the worst damage he and his accomplices do gets little top-of-the-fold coverage, buried under his daily grammatically challenged tweet storms. One under-the-radar destructive policy makes even less sense than his usual foul tactics: the deconstruction of the highly successful federal telework program.
Federal telework has been around for about two decades. In 2001, during the Bush administration, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office launched one of the first such programs, initially allowing many of its 400 trademark lawyers to work from home, physically reporting in periodically. The program was immediately successful. Productivity and employee morale soared. Eventually, the program was expanded to allow employees to work from anywhere in the U.S. Another big plus — when the office moved to new quarters, it was able to take much less space than before at a savings of millions of dollars to the taxpayer.
Other agencies noted PTO’s success and instituted their own telework programs, accompanied by the same positive results. In addition, the more agencies went to telework, the less congestion there was on the often-clogged highways leading in and out of Washington, D.C. In 2010, Congress passed a law encouraging the expansion of telework programs.
The Trump administration is shutting them down. One reason for abandoning a highly successful program that saves money, increases productivity, improves morale, eases traffic congestion and cuts down air pollution could be to punish federal workers for existing. Trump and his enablers have targeted as a red herring a manufactured enemy presumably part of the imaginary “deep state” that is supposedly out to frustrate the administration’s policies. The list of contrived Trump nemeses is getting pretty long — immigrants, Hillary, Muslims, NATO, the EU, Mexico, Canada, Mueller, Rosenstein, the FBI, the CIA, minorities, trade deals and federal workers.
Next, we’ll be hearing about the evil Easter bunny and wicked tooth fairy.
More than 32,000 teleworkers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been able to work from home four days a week. That’s over now. Secretary Sonny Perdue claims that if they are in the office every day, they will be better able to serve their constituents. The number of constituents who physically appear at department headquarters is miniscule. I guess the department’s phones are superior to home phones.
As Georgia governor, Perdue was a champion of telework, promoting it as a morale and productivity booster and improver of the quality of life by virtue of its positive impact on traffic congestion and commuting. He called it a “model for high-tech business practices.” Coming to Washington and breathing the fetid air disgorging from the White House can turn even Sonny into a shady sycophant.
Other departments and agencies are also falling into line with this retrograde policy.
When the Trump administration took over the reins of government, 22 percent of all federal employees teleworked. That took almost 80,000 cars off the roads during rush hours. For a brief shining moment (now gone), the metropolitan area with the worst traffic congestion in the nation experienced some relief.
Mindful that we are now hearing from Trump daily about new cabals conspiring against him, let me put a counter-conspiracy out there that may explain this latest war on public servants. Maybe this anti-telework policy is all about dissuading Jeff Bezos and Amazon from locating its second headquarters in the D.C. area. Increased traffic jams and two-hour commutes might deter Amazon. Trump both hates and fears Bezos, because he also owns The Washington Post, which does a heroic job of outing Trump’s constant lies and libels. This might be just another round in Trump’s war against Amazon, which he falsely claims is ripping off the U.S. Postal Service (I spoke to two postal service representatives recently who told me that, without the Amazon delivery contract, the postal service could be history).
Tired of winning yet?
Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.