Author ORCID Identifier


Document Type


Publication Date



Civil servants, Political leaders, Child-separation policy, Deviating policies, Conscientious resignation


In the federal government, political officials come and go while civil servants remain. In the ordinary course, the political officials make decisions about what policies the government will pursue while civil servants use their labor and expertise to carry those policies out––even when they disagree with them. But what happens when political officials pursue policies that civil servants view as deviating from normal bounds–– policies that are unethical, immoral, or unlawful? This Article examines when and how civil servants might object to such policies, including going so far as to leave government service. It concludes that when faced with such situations, employees’ personal benefit-cost analyses will generally lead them to not object to deviating policies.

Of the costs federal employees must consider, the dominant one is usually economic: They need a job and cannot afford to leave one without having another lined up. Although existing civil-service rules partly reduce this cost—such as through giving anti-retaliation protections to whistleblowers—those protections are often insufficient to motivate objection. As a corrective, this Article proposes the introduction of “conscience leave.” For employees facing deviating policies on the job, conscience leave would offer a safety net to go on paid, inactive status while searching for new employment. In return, leavers would report to Congress their reasons for taking leave. This safety net would promote several socially desirable outcomes, including enabling federal employees to serve consistent with their consciences, deterring deviating policies, and fostering congressional oversight.

First Page


Publication Title

Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy