John Bellinger III ’82’s message imploring American civil servants to continue serving in the Trump administration (essay, Oct. 4) injects timely moral engagement for many career officials on edge. By way of background, I served in the U.S. Foreign Service from 2011 to 2017, including postings to Ghana, Pakistan, and to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Yes, it is a loss for our country when civil servants, with their decades of policy expertise, leave the government. Unfortunately, this administration does not seem to value this expertise, and the grim decision facing many career officials today is whether leaving the government may be the better way to serve our country.
Many career officials can no longer influence the policymaking process by providing fact-based recommendations to the political leadership because the facts may contradict the new administration’s ideologies. A myriad of projects and initiatives, some spanning decades of research and analysis, are being attacked either through funding cuts or calculated neglect. Moreover, many strategists close to the president are fundamentally distrustful of career officials, relegating them to Orwellian terms like “the deep state.” Given these unprecedented attacks on our government institutions, many career officials may rightly feel that their moral compass is calling them to resign from the government so they can regain the intellectual space necessary to advance their research and policy analysis, whether it is climate change, income inequality, civil rights, or international development, rather than remain within a system that attempts to silence these different perspectives.
As long as our political leadership continues to attack our core institutions, the exodus of civil servants will continue. Career officials who resign do not make the decision lightly. However, under the current administration, there may be more effective ways to serve and contribute to our society.