With just days remaining until the latest government shutdown deadline, more than 60 organizations are pressuring Democratic lawmakers to ensure spending legislation includes a provision preventing the Trump administration from politicizing the civil service.
A group of more than 60 organizations representing various facets of the federal workforce and an array of policy advocates last week pushed Democratic lawmakers to negotiate as part of legislation to keep the government open past this week language blocking a controversial effort by the Trump administration to strip the civil service protections from potentially hundreds of thousands of federal workers.
In October, President Trump signed an executive order creating a new Schedule F job classification within the government’s career civil service for “employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions,” and instructing agencies to come up with a preliminary list of positions that meet that criteria by Jan. 19. The new job classification would make federal workers essentially at-will employees, subject to termination without cause.
Federal employee unions, organizations representing managers and executives, and good government groups have sounded the alarm about the Trump administration’s plan since it was unveiled. The Office of Management and Budget already has submitted a proposal to the Office of Personnel Management to convert 88% of its employees to Schedule F, and other agencies are expected to follow suit in the coming days.
Despite the consensus that Trump’s directive could undo more than a century of federal civil service law and warnings that even partial implementation could lead to a “logistical nightmare” for the Biden administration, sources told Government Executive that many lawmakers so far have failed to understand the threat Schedule F poses.
House and Senate leadership were scheduled to meet on Tuesday afternoon to finalize negotiations on bills to fund the government past Dec. 18 and provide additional COVID-19 relief to Americans. In a Dec. 11 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, 68 organizations engaged in a last-ditch effort to ensure the appropriations bill will block federal funds from being used to convert federal positions to Schedule F. The letter was published by the Government Accountability Project on Monday.
“With COVID-19 cases rising, and the challenge of widespread vaccine distribution on the horizon, now is not the time to risk [Schedule F being implemented],” the organizations wrote. “Many critical response efforts will be stymied without the federal workers to carry them out. As you look to pass a bill providing the executive branch with hundreds of billions of dollars in budget authority, we urge you to protect a key check on corruption and abuse of power—public servants who hold allegiance to the rule of law and the Constitution, not a political party.”
The coalition includes federal employee unions like the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, as well as management organizations like the Senior Executives Association. The Partnership for Public Service and other good government organizations are signatories, in addition to transparency-focused groups like the Project on Government Oversight.
The groups stressed that given the pace at which some agencies are moving to greenlight conversions to Schedule F, the directive is not something that can simply be rescinded with the stroke of a pen when President-elect Biden enters office on Jan. 20.
“Even if the Biden administration is able to reverse the order and bring back employees, this process could take weeks, if not months, added to the weeks prior to inauguration that government must operate without the fired employees, and would raise other complications for the dismissed employees, such as breaks in service,” they wrote. “And any reversal would need to account for burrowed-in appointees who may seek to disrupt the Biden administration. Even the simplest reversal of new hiring actions will require lengthy and costly litigation and present the risk of a court reinstating the new hires.”