Watchdog Group Seeks Records on Possible Bullying by Trump Team

WASHINGTON (CN) – A government watchdog group sued two federal agencies on Thursday for records it hopes will show whether civil service employees of the government are being bullied into silence by the new administration.

The Protect Democracy Project filed complaints against the U.S. Departments of Energy and Health and Human Services to force disclosure of communications between the Trump transition team and federal officials about presidential transition questionnaires.

In a Feb. 15 Freedom of Information Act request the nonpartisan non-profit also asked for records about personnel changes and new personnel assignment policies at both agencies.

Officials associated with President Donald Trump’s transition reportedly asked civil service workers to fill out questionnaires about the agencies’ policies on climate change, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and abortion and birth control.

“We’re suing to see if laws protecting the civil service have been broken, and to support our federal workers in standing up to these attacks,” Ben Berwick, counsel for the Protect Democracy Project, said in an emailed statement.

The April 27 complaints note that the Protect Democracy Project concerns itself with protecting democracy from a slide into authoritarian-style politics.

One of the key issues the group works on is protecting civil service workers from politicization, intimidation and purges, the latter of which it said in a press release about the lawsuits is a characteristic of recent democratic decline in Thailand, Poland and Hungary.

“Experience shows that attacks on the civil service are a red flag for the health of a democracy,” the press release said.

In December, the Washington Post reported on the Department of Energy questionnaire, noting that it had asked for a list of people involved in climate change meetings, and what DOE programs are essential for meeting President Obama’s Climate Action Plan goals.

“In just the first 100 days, civil servants have been subjected to unprecedented public attacks from the White House,” Berwick said. “The rhetoric alone has likely had a chilling effect, intimidating civil servants from standing up for longstanding norms they help to protect.”

According to the lawsuits, both agencies have granted fee waivers for the FOIA requests, but have not identified which offices hold the records, and have not said how long it will take to process the requests.

The Department of Energy declined to comment on the pending litigation. The Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for comment.

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