The Year of the Civil Servant

Never before have the roles of government workers taken on such significance. But there could be consequences to using their power to undermine the administration.

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Photo: U.S. Department of State
Media Outlet: The Atlantic

Joshua Geltzer wrote for the Atlantic on the continued importance of the work done by civil servants throughout the federal government:

For now, however, these government workers appear to have some influence. Take, for example, the president’s abrupt about-face on sending the suspect in October’s terrorist attack in downtown Manhattan, Sayfullo Saipov, to Guantanamo Bay. Within 24 hours, Trump went from calling for Saipov to be dispatched to the detention camp to declaring that Saipov’s case would be handled within the criminal-justice system—the same one that, a day earlier, he had mocked as “a joke and ... a laughingstock.”
It’s unclear what changed the president’s mind so quickly. But I’d like to think that civil servants played a role—they’ve seen, on the one hand, the effectiveness of the criminal-justice system in taking terrorists off the battlefield and, on the other, the complications associated with detention and military prosecution in Guantanamo. Civil servants who’ve dealt with both firsthand may have gotten the right information to the right people to influence Trump’s thinking.
That’s what the American civil servant does: develop expertise, offer continuity, speak truth to power. The country has perhaps never needed it more than it did during the turbulence of 2017.

Author:

Joshua Geltzer is an ASU Future of War Fellow at New America. He is writing a book exploring challenges associated with modern communications technologies such as social media platforms, file-upload sites, and internet search engines.