Last year, President Donald Trump's transition team attempted to collect the names of federal employees working on climate change programs.
Those throughout the United States' democracy shifted in their seats, unnerved by what was viewed by some as an act of intimidation. For others, it was also a wake up call — NPR reported that watchdog group United to Protect Democracy is now suing the Trump administration with the goal of "protecting the civil service from purges, intimidation, or politicization."
“What we’re looking for is: Are civil servants being bullied or intimidated?” said Ben Berwick, one of the lawyers who filed the complaints. “Are they being hired, or fired, or reassigned because of their perceived political views?”
The group is asking for documents from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that would either disprove or support allegations that the government agencies sought to intimidate their employees based on their social and political views. The thought follows that this would be in line with an attempt to purge the government of critique, paving the way for it to become an ideological machine.
The suit against the DOE specifies workers involved in climate change policies, and the HHS file asks for documents that relate to the administration's potential targeting of employees linked to Obamacare and abortion rights.
According to the Washington Post, the group says that they originally requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), however, time passed and nothing came of their application. Under law an FOIA request must be answered within 20 business days, otherwise the organization seeking information is able to sue.
While there is currently no evidence of improper actions by the HHS or DOE against workers, United to Protect Democracy says it has seen enough from the current administration to feel the need to investigate. Earlier this year, press secretary Sean Spicer told government employees opposed to Trump's immigration ban that they could "get with the program or they can go." The president himself has mentioned initiatives eerily similar to those favored by fascist governments of a bygone era. In addition, his dictatorial rants against anyone who disagrees with his policies or does not bend to his will do nothing to put the group at ease.
“What we’ve seen from the administration has people understandably nervous, so we want to get the facts,” Berwick explained. “If [Spicer] is saying publicly that dissenters should quit, what are they saying and doing behind closed doors?”