Now that Draining The Swamp is back on the agenda—and it definitely is, Donald Trump says—folks who labor in the myriad federal buildings dotting Washington are probably thinking about their options. How will Trump approach the federal government’s 2.5 million federal employees, or the 7,000-odd senior managers who assist political appointees? Will they even want to stay?
Signs point to an exodus. A study published earlier this month suggests that senior civil servants leave in droves during the first year of a new administration. They’re especially likely to quit when the incoming president’s politics are counter to the agency’s own ideological leanings.
And when these leaders leave, they take their experience and connections with them, leaving federal departments worse off.
“The government is a bundle of expertise,” said John de Figueiredo, a professor of law, strategy, and economics at Duke University, who co-authored the study. “When you lose these people who are very senior, we think that could potentially have a detrimental effect on governmental performance.”
The idea that agencies even have ideological leanings might raise a few eyebrows. They’re supposed to be apolitical, after all. And the paper’s logic presumes that most employees would fall in line with their agencies’ reputations. But data collected through years of surveys indicate government departments do have political preferences, and the study’s authors say there’s strong evidence linking those preferences to the departure of senior managers under unfriendly administrations.