Joe Biden is set to take up the U.S. presidency in a week, a job that places him at the helm of the largest employer in the world: the U.S. government.
Already Biden has established that he has very different priorities than President Donald Trump has taken with the federal workforce, and feds can expect to see several initiatives out of the new administration.
Rescinding controversial union executive orders
Though the Biden transition team has not released concrete plans for how it plans to address three executive orders signed by President Donald Trump in May 2018 and targeting federal collective bargaining and employee rights, the upcoming administration has been vocal in support of federal bargaining protections.
“The federal government should serve as a role model for employers to treat their workers fairly. Yet, Trump has gutted the ability of federal employees to collectively bargain, stripped them of their union representation, and made it easier to fire federal employees without ‘just cause,’” Biden said in response to an American Federation of Government Employees questionnaire.
“On my first day in office, I will restore federal employees’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, restore their right to official time, and direct agencies to bargain with federal employee unions over non-mandatory subjects of bargaining. I will aggressively hold the line against any effort to undermine workers’ rights and to diminish federal employees’ right to due process in the workplace.”
Restoring diversity training
Biden has been outspoken in favor of diversity training in general and in opposing Trump’s recent efforts to remove diversity training in the federal workforce.
According to the executive order signed in September of this year, Trump sees diversity training that focuses on white privilege and implicit bias as inherently divisive, causing more problems than it fixes.
His order placed all diversity training programs on hold, pending an Office of Personnel Management review, though agencies were encouraged to “improve” their materials before even submitting them.
But Biden countered such claims about diversity training, saying that people “have to be made aware of what other people feel like,” at a Sept. 29 presidential debate.
Biden’s transition website also lists the promotion of “diversity and accountability in leadership across key positions in all federal agencies,” as a core element of his plans for supporting racial equity.
Rehabbing the public view of government service
Trump’s initial campaign and administration hewed frequently to efforts to “drain the swamp” of Washington, D.C., an imperative that was later tied to encouraging large numbers of federal employees to quit service by then-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Biden has made it an imperative of his transition, even before Election Day, to restore public confidence in government figures, largely through personal transparency and closely restricting instances where officials’ personal and government interests intersect.
“The next administration must demonstrate with their actions that public servants serve all Americans, not themselves or narrow special interests,” the Biden transition ethics plan states.
Support for science agencies and scientists
Layered throughout Biden’s plans to address the COVID-19 pandemic are promises that his administration will closely follow the advice of government and private sector scientists.
That emphasis on scientific integrity also extends to Biden’s climate change plans and support for work being done at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency.
“EPA’s mission is forged by science and a moral conviction that all Americans have a right to clean air, clean water, and safe and healthy communities, and that a sustainable environment also means a strong economy,” Biden said Dec. 2 in honor of the EPA’s 50th anniversary.
“We will celebrate the outstanding public servants and patriots who have given meaning and impact to the EPA’s founding values and vision through their dedicated work.”
The early days of the Trump administration drew the ire of science experts, as the White House placed gag orders on scientists at EPA and the Department of Agriculture while removing information on climate change from government websites.
Efforts to move two science-focused agencies at USDA outside Washington, D.C., were also viewed by critics as an attack on federal scientists.
Pay and benefit protection
Biden has committed to “consistent and regular pay increases” for the civil service as a means of supporting existing feds and enticing new employees to join the federal workplace.
Under Trump, feds have seen fairly consistent pay raises, including a historic 3.1 percent increase on 2020 paychecks.
Some of these increases have come in spite of Trump efforts, rather than because of them, as last year’s pay raise originated in congressional action that contradicted Trump’s proposed pay freeze for the year.
2021 saw a modest pay raise for feds, as Congress chose not to mandate how federal pay was addressed in funding legislation, defaulting to the White House’s original one percent pay increase plan.
Biden has also said that he opposes efforts to shift a larger percentage of the costs of the Federal Employees Retirement System onto employees and away from the government.
“The federal government should lead by example and provide high quality benefits, instead of pushing anti-worker budget adjustments designed to shift the burden of health care and retirement costs onto employees,” Biden said.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.