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One possible casualty: a pay raise that federal employees historically have received when the economy is humming.

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Kunin said he lost staff who did not want to work for the new administration — and then was unable to replace them because of the early hiring freeze.

He said he grew frustrated with what he called a slow start by the White House on bringing private-sector solutions to the government.

"This is going very well," said anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, who famously once quipped that he wanted to shrink government small enough so he could "drown it in the bathtub." "Slow and steady — for all the bluster, this is how you downsize government without engendering blowback," Norquist added.

And some civil servants said they welcome the focus on rooting out waste and holding federal workers to high standards.

Federal workers fret that their jobs could be zeroed out amid buyouts and early retirement offers that already have prompted hundreds of their colleagues to leave, according to interviews with three dozen employees across the government.

Many chafed as supervisors laid down new rules they said are aimed at holding poor performers and problem workers to account.

At the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a wave of recent retirements has depleted the managerial staff at the enforcement agency's 70 field offices, said Jordan Barab, who was a top OSHA official in the Obama administration.

In all, the agency shed 119 permanent workers by the end of September, a 6 percent drop, personnel data shows.

"I was involved in several major initiatives, and they were all stalled," he recalled. Comey tell Congress in June that Trump had asked him for his personal loyalty, Kunin said his red line was crossed.

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