Republican candidate for western Montana’s new congressional district, Ryan Zinke, said the first bill he would introduce if he won in November would target certain federal employees, echoing concerns he had raised when he was Interior Secretary of an “entrenched” bureaucracy and exploiting GOP frustrations following a search of former President Donald Trump’s home last week.
The legislation would include proposals such as capping years of service and salary for non-military employees, barring political appointees from getting permanent jobs, and creating a “clear path” to dismiss employees for a valid reason.
The Federal Employees Accountability and Reduction Act, or FEAR Act, would also aim to reduce the size of the federal government through employee attrition, funding, and the repeal of recent expansions of agencies such as the IRS.
Bill Requires Quarterly Salary Posting of Political Appointees, Eliminates Preferential Hiring for Non-Veteran Employees, and Accelerates Agency-to-Agency Hiring; automatically removes benefits from current or former employees convicted of violent or federal crimes or crimes committed using access to their employment information; forces some federal agencies to relocate out of Washington DC; and requires the sale of certain unused buildings in metropolitan areas.
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“I’m asking the question about these stump speeches — give me an example of a division, department, agency of the United States government that you have complete confidence in,” Zinke said in a statement. interview Wednesday. “Even the post office is now a suspect, and it’s a stark departure from when I was growing up.”
Zinke was previously Montana’s only congressman before being nominated by Trump to lead the Department of the Interior. He resigned after two years amid multiple ethics investigations, events that were highlighted by his political opponents in the primary and now Democratic nominee Monica Tranel at the general.
Tranel’s campaign issued a statement on Wednesday strongly criticizing Zinke’s proposed bill, again raising those concerns.
Zinke has spent much of this campaign railing against the so-called “deep state,” alleging that an entrenched federal bureaucracy is stifling meaningful change. He was sharply critical of officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was the public face of the federal government’s response to the pandemic, and was quick to come to Trump’s defense following the recent FBI raid of his residence of Mar-a-Lago.
Zinke says that on the Interior, he frequently clashed with federal employees who he believed were shielded by bureaucracy despite cause for discipline or termination.
“We have to go back to transparency, holding people accountable because I think that’s a dangerous path once people no longer trust any branch of government,” he said.
The campaign press release does not differentiate between federal employees who would be subject to the provisions of the legislation in addition to an exemption for the military. Asked about the potential impacts on agencies or a chilling effect on hiring quality employees, Zinke said the bill does not address those who work in the field. It provides for changes that would “round off some of the sharp edges” in terms of who would be exempt, such as law enforcement or other people in the field.
“There will be exceptions,” he said. “We did a broad brush, but what it’s really about is how long have you been at HQ. Have you been in the field? Some people will come up and never leave the head office and there is an arrogance involved.
Government at all levels is a major employer in Montana, with a recent report establishing that 19% of Montana employees work in the public sector. Asked about their potential reaction to the bill, Zinke again said the legislation does not target field staff.
“I think (field staff) are going to be as frustrated with the siege as I was,” he said. “…It hits what I would consider the elite, the bureaucratic elite.”
In response to the bill, Tranel’s campaign accused Zinke of hypocrisy on the accountability issue. The campaign pointed to investigations, including an inspector general’s report that found Zinke abused his official position and failed to fully comply when questioned by ethics officers.
“Once again, scandal-ridden Ryan Zinke has failed and embarrassed Montana. His new “FEAR Act” fails to recognize his long history of failures, misdeeds and corruption as a lifelong government employee. Zinke fears accountability,” read a statement released by the campaign.
Tom Kuglin is an associate editor in the state bureau of Lee Newspapers. Its coverage focuses on the outdoors, recreation and natural resources.