Feds believe they can make a difference under Trump administration

The vast majority of federal employees who responded to a Federal News Radio poll said they have no plans to retire for political reasons during the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Federal News Radio conducted the survey to reflect the findings from a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research. Based on trends in federal employee retirement, the study’s authors concluded that senior career executives leave in greater numbers than average when a new president with different policies takes over.

The study, “Elections, Ideology and Turnover in the U.S. Federal Government,” comes from three political science professors:

In a related 2015 article, two of the study’s authors looked at how federal employees reacted when a new president takes policy in a new direction. That study sorted government workers into one of three categories:

  • “Wait them out”: Staying in government for the possibility of implementing a better policy under a friendlier president in the future
  • “I can make a difference”: Staying in government to help the incoming administration’s appointees craft a more moderate policy
  • “Quitting in protest”: Leaving government, faced with a hostile president who forces distasteful policy on the agency
  • I am none of these (please specify)

Based on the academic research, Federal News Radio polled its audience where they’d fall into these categories when working under the Trump administration.


Of the 1,569 responses that we received, the majority of feds said they would not be politically motivated to leave their jobs: 41 percent said they would “wait out” the incoming Trump administration, and wait to move the ball forward on policy under a new president.

“I am going to stay around to make them angry, they want my position but staying put as a senior government official,” said one respondent.

Meanwhile, 36 percent said they want to “make a difference,” and seek to work with the Trump administration on policy areas where there is common ground.

“[I am going to] support the efforts to hold fellow feds accountable. Time to trim the ranks. Lots of overpaid, underworked,” another respondent said.

Under the Donald Trump administration, what kind of federal employee will you be?
Answer Responses (percent) Responses (total)
“Wait them out” 41.17% 646
“I can make a difference” 36.20% 568
“Quitting in protest” 5.29% 83
“I am none of these” 17.34% 272
Total 1,569

Meanwhile, 36 percent said they want to “make a difference,” and seek to work with the Trump administration on policy areas where there is common ground.

Only 5 percent of respondents said they would quit in protest during the Trump administration, while 17 percent opted for the “none of these” category. Of those, many cited retirement concerns as both their reasons for staying or for leaving:

“I will be retiring as soon as I reach my minimum retirement age. I am not in a financial position to do so, but this administration’s disdain for federal employees is too palpable to stand. I also want to leave before they mess with our retirement and health benefits in hopes that my benefits will be grandfathered if I retire.”

“Run for the Hills and retire before POTUS destroys the retirement I earned.”

“Planning to retire in one year. Just waiting it out until then.”

“I plan to put out feelers in the private sector and to get ready for a transition out of civil service and end my GS career I love my job but I’m frustrated with current leadership and the incoming leadership is scary.”

“I am just buying my time for 3-year high.”

Meanwhile, a significant portion of the responses demonstrated an apolitical attitude; no matter who the president is, these feds said they’ve got a job to do, no matter what:

“Backing new President 100%”

“I am here to serve the people — the Executive is my boss.”

“Keep my head down, and stay focused on the work.”

“Stay in government because the incoming administration will affect me way less than everyone is making it out to be.”

“This will be my fifth President. I have taken an oath to the Constitution and will continue to work to best of my ability regardless of who occupies the White House.”

“The same I was under Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama. Hardworking.”

“Federal employees must be able to adapt to the change in direction, regardless of which direction that may be.”

The study’s authors, Alexander Bolton of Emory University, John M. de Figueiredo of Duke University and David Lewis of Vanderbilt University, pulled data from the Office of Personnel Mangement’s Central Personnel Data File and Enterprise Human Resources Integration systems, which store records for 3.5 million employees.

Based on a model built on that OPM data, they found that senior executive service members leave at a rate 1.6 percent higher in the first year of a new administration. That translates to 100 more SES members leaving than normal. Federal Drive host Tom Temin asked the study’s authors where these effects will be felt the most in government.

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