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Conservative-backed group is creating a list of federal workers it suspects could resist Trump plans

Conservative-backed group is creating a list of federal workers it suspects could resist Trump plans
3 weeks 4 days 7 hours ago Monday, June 24 2024 Jun 24, 2024 June 24, 2024 12:24 PM June 24, 2024 in News - AP National
Source: APnews.com
Tom Jones, a political activist and former Capitol Hill aide to Republican senators, is pictured in Bardstown, Ky., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. From his home office in small-town Kentucky, Jones and his American Accountability Foundation are quietly investigating scores of federal employees suspected of being hostile to the policies of Republican former President Donald Trump, a chilling effort that dovetails with broader conservative preparations for a new White House. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

WASHINGTON (AP) — From his home office in small-town Kentucky, a seasoned political operative is quietly investigating scores of federal employees suspected of being hostile to the policies of Republican Donald Trump, a highly unusual and potentially chilling effort that dovetails with broader conservative preparations for a new White House.

Tom Jones and his American Accountability Foundation are digging into the backgrounds, social media posts and commentary of key high-ranking government employees, starting with the Department of Homeland Security. They're relying in part on tips from his network of conservative contacts, including workers. In a move that alarms some, they're preparing to publish the findings online.

With a $100,000 grant from the Heritage Foundation, the goal is to post 100 names of government workers to a website this summer to show a potential new administration who might be standing in the way of a second-term Trump agenda — and ripe for scrutiny, reclassifications, reassignments or firings.

"We need to understand who these people are and what they do," said Jones, a former Capitol Hill aide to Republican senators.

The concept of compiling and publicizing a list of government employees shows the lengths Trump's allies are willing to go to ensure nothing or no one will block his plans in a potential second term. Jones' Project Sovereignty 2025 comes as Heritage's Project 2025 lays the groundwork, with policies, proposals and personnel ready for a possible new White House.

The effort, focused on top career government officials who aren't appointees within the political structure, has stunned democracy experts and shocked the civil service community in what they compare with the red scare of McCarthyism.

Jacqueline Simon, policy director at the American Federation of Government Employees, said the language being used — the Heritage Foundation's announcement praised the group for ferreting out "anti-American bad actors" — is "shocking."

Civil servants are often ex-military personnel and are required to take an oath to the Constitution to work for the federal government, not a loyalty test to a president, she and others said.

"It just seems as though their goal is to try to menace federal employees and sow fear," said Simon, whose union backs President Joe Biden, a Democrat, for reelection.

As Trump, who has been convicted of felony charges in a hush money case and is under a four-count federal indictment accusing him of working to overturn his 2020 election loss, faces a likely rematch with Biden this fall, far-right conservatives have vowed to take a wrecking ball to what they call the deep-state bureaucracy.

The Trump campaign has said outside groups don't speak for the ex-president, who alone sets his policy priorities.

Conservatives view the federal workforce as overstepping its role to become a power center that can drive or thwart a president's agenda. Particularly during the Trump administration, government officials came under attack from the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as his own Cabinet often raised objections to some of his more singular or even unlawful proposals.

While Jones' group won't necessarily be recommending whether to fire or reassign the federal workers it lists, the work aligns with Heritage's far-reaching Project 2025 blueprint for a conservative administration.

Heritage's Project 2025 proposes reviving the Trump Schedule F policy that would try to reclassify tens of thousands of federal workers as political appointees, which could enable mass dismissals — although a Biden administration rule seeks to make that more difficult. The Heritage project is working to recruit and train a new generation to travel to Washington to fill government jobs.

In announcing the $100,000 Innovation Award last month, Heritage said it'd support American Accountability Foundation's "investigative researchers, in-depth reports, and educational efforts to alert Congress, a conservative administration, and the American people to the presence of anti-American bad actors burrowed into the administrative state and ensure appropriate action is taken."

Heritage President Kevin Roberts said the "weaponization of the federal government" has been possible only because of the "deep state of entrenched Leftist bureaucrats." He said he was proud to support the work of American Accountability Foundation workers "in their fight to hold our government accountable and drain it of bad actors."

The federal government employs about 2.2 million people, including those in the Washington, D.C., area and workers who the unions say many Americans know as friends or neighbors in communities across the country.

About 4,000 positions in the government are considered political appointees who routinely change from one presidential administration to the next, but most are career professionals — from landscapers at Veterans Administration cemeteries to economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The public list-making conjures for some the era of Joseph McCarthy, the senator who conducted grueling hearings into suspected communist sympathizers during the Cold War. The hearings were orchestrated by a top staffer, Roy Cohn, who became a confidant of a younger Trump.

Skye Perryman, CEO of the advocacy group Democracy Forward, said it's deeply disturbing and reminiscent of "the darker parts of American history."

Publicly naming government workers is an "intimidation tactic to try to chill the work of these civil servants," she said, and part of a broader "retribution agenda" underway this election.

"They're seeking to undermine our democracy," she said. "They're seeking to undermine the way that our government works for people."

Jones, from his desk overlooking rickhouses storing barrels in the Bourbon Capitol of Bardstown, scoffed at comparisons to McCarthyism as "nonsense."

He's a former staffer to then-Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina conservative Republican who later led Heritage and now helms the Conservative Policy Institute, where American Accountability Foundation has a mailing address. Jones also worked for Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, and provided opposition research for Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential bid.

With six researchers, Jones' team operates remotely across the country, poring over the information about federal workers within Homeland Security, the State Department and other agencies that deal with immigration and border issues.

Their focus is on the highest ranks of the civil servants — GS-13, GS-14 and GS-15 employees and those in senior executive positions who could put up roadblocks to Trump's plans for tighter borders and more deportations.

"I think it's important to the next administration to understand who those people are," Jones said.

He dismissed the risks that could be involved in publicly posting the names, salary information and other details of federal workers who have some level of privacy or the idea his group's work could put employees' livelihoods in jeopardy.

"You don't get to make policy and then say, 'Hey, don't scrutinize me,"' he said.

He acknowledges some of the work is often a "gut check" or "instinct" about which federal employees would be suspected of trying to block a conservative agenda.

"We're looking at, 'Are there wrong people on the bus right now that are, you know, openly hostile to efforts to secure the southern border?'" he said.

His own group came under scrutiny as it first probed Biden nominees.

Biden had repealed Trump's Schedule F executive order in January 2021, but a Government Accountability Office report in 2022 found that agencies believed it could be reinstated by a future administration.

Since then, the Biden administration issued a rule that would make it harder to fire workers. A new administration could direct the Office of Personnel Management to undo the regulation, but the process would take time and be open to legal challenges.

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