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Clearing the deadwood

Back in early December, two Republican senators — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — asked the president to stop adding executive branch employees “just in case the outgoing Obama administration was planning a last-minute hiring spree,” The Washington Post reported.

Turns out they saw the future.

Last week, the Post reported that the White House is rushing to fill hundreds of vacant positions “to ensure that as many new employees as possible are in place” before Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

The idea is to fill various vacancies with progressive partisans who are hostile to Mr. Trump’s political vision. Agencies involved include the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Transportation Security Administration, the National Park Service and the Labor and Agriculture departments.

Mr. Trump has vowed to impose a federal hiring freeze immediately upon taking office for jobs unrelated to the military and public health and safety. The freeze is part of his effort to slow the growth of the federal government and more narrowly define the missions of some executive branch agencies.

The approach is modeled on a similar move by Ronald Reagan after he took office in 1981.

While it’s true that a blanket hiring freeze may make more sense for some agencies than for others over the long run, it will at least give Mr. Trump time to consider where staffing flexibility is most necessary and how best to implement other workplace initiatives.

Mr. Obama’s back-door effort to undermine the president-elect’s agenda is out of touch, not to mention petty and vindictive. Even more so considering the Post reports that Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s incoming press secretary, said the Obama White House had — as a gesture of goodwill — previously agreed that no new hires would come on board after Dec. 1. “The understanding was that there would be a full accounting of anyone put on the payroll after then,” Mr. Spicer told the newspaper.

Let’s hope the Trump administration does indeed conduct such a “full accounting.” In addition, the new president and Republican Congress should aggressively move forward on other civil-service reforms, including more market-based pay policies and changes that make it easier to discipline or fire underperforming employees.

Most federal workers work hard and perform admirably. Many understand that clearing the deadwood will, in fact, make it easier for them to do their jobs and improve efficiency. To that end, Mr. Trump’s push for accountability no doubt enjoys wide support among taxpayers.

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