President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Jan. 30, making several claims about federal employees that raised eyebrows. We fact-checked his speech below and set the record straight.
1. “Last year, the Congress passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my Administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve." - President Trump
The Facts: The president and his administration couldn’t be more off base. The reality is they are celebrating firing veterans and decreasing the access to and level of care our veterans have earned. In addition, firing American workers is nothing to celebrate or be proud of. Consider that the majority of those this administration has kicked to the curb have been the lowest paid and ranked employees of the agencies, those who earned less than $30,000 annually, and many of these fired employees are veterans with service-connected disabilities. Meanwhile, only 14 supervisors were removed from their roles. Few acknowledge that the 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA was caused by bad managers gaming waitlists for bigger bonuses, and it was the frontline workers who blew the whistle. And now, we have an administration targeting frontline workers for termination. Only .009% of removals have been the managers causing the kind of problems that advocates of the VA Accountability Act claimed to care about.
Accountability starts at the top. President Trump must be accountable to the American taxpayer for the negative consequences of the hiring freeze, and the budget impasse that led to the shutdown we had last month. VA Secretary David Shulkin must be accountable for failing to fill the 49,000 vacancies that are the real reason veterans are forced to wait for care at too many VA facilities.
2. “Tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” - President Trump
The Facts: What the President is actually asking Congress to do is give all of his Cabinet Secretaries the power to fire federal employees they consider not loyal to the administration and its political agenda. Make no mistake: this is a plan to politicize federal employment and allow the administration to hire and fire on the basis of politics rather than merit.
If you’re running Trump Enterprises in the private sector, you get to hire and fire anybody you want to. But we’re running the United States of America that is governed by the Constitution.
Our current system makes sure that federal employees are hired and fired solely on the basis of whether they have the knowledge, skills, and ability to do the job; and politics plays no role whatsoever in that evaluation. The apolitical civil service is an important foundation of our democracy, and it represents a sacred trust with citizens that their taxes will not ever go to rewarding an administration’s friends or punishing its enemies.
The controversial firing of FBI Director James Comey is a reminder of why we need to protect the integrity of the civil service and the merit systems, so a bad boss doesn't dismiss their employees for speaking out or doing the right thing.
3. “And we are serving our brave veterans, including giving our veterans choice in their healthcare decisions.” - President Trump
The Facts: What the President was actually saying was that he was giving the private hospital industry choice to make big bucks off veterans and the American taxpayer.
The “Choice” private care program has been better funded than the VA hospitals. While VA hospitals are severely understaffed, politicians are putting more money into the for-profit private care program. Pushing veterans into under-prepared care providers with no transparency or accountability in the program. Last September, the VA Office of Inspector General found that the two main contractors running the VA’s Choice program have defrauded taxpayers by nearly $90 million.
Dismantling the VA by sending all the resources to the choice program also takes veterans’ choice to choose VA hospitals and clinics (which they prefer) away from them.
VA Secretary David Shulkin himself has admitted that VA's only real problem is that it's horribly understaffed – his own estimate was that there are about 49,000 unfilled positions nationwide. But Shulkin and Trump want to leave the VA understaffed and without resources so that veterans stop supporting the VA and give in to the false idea that they'd be better off with vouchers for private sector care.
4. “And we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.” - President Trump
The Facts: The administration is not making it a priority to recruit doctors, nurses, or other health care professionals to take care of veterans, or really hire at all. This is a deliberate strategy: establish the basics of a privatization plan and keep throwing more and more money at it and encourage veterans to use it instead of the VA. At the same time, they starve the VA of staff and other resources in order to make it fail.
The VA already has the top talent in the country and enormous advances in research and patient care that benefit every health care field in the world. Making it easier to fire doctors and nurses who devoted their careers to veterans is a bad move.
5.“I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey." - President Trump
The Facts: If this administration truly cares about veterans, they would fully staff VA facilities. VA medical centers are world class and have consistently outperformed private hospitals. The administration deliberately starves VA hospitals to help carry out the private hospital industry’s privatization agenda.