'There Needs to Be a Reckoning': Republicans Introduce a Bill to Make Feds At-Will Employees
The legislation, along with recent talk of a renewed effort to implement Schedule F, makes clear that a “major assault” on the federal civil service is coming, regardless of who the next Republican presidential nominee will be.
A group of five conservative Republicans has introduced legislation to make the federal government an at-will employer, eviscerating civil service protections, chilling whistleblower activity and abolishing the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, Mary Miller, R-Ill., Troy Nehls, R-Texas, Bob Good, R-Va., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., on Thursday introduced the Public Service Reform Act (H.R. 8550), which would make federal workers at-will employees and strip them of many of the avenues currently at their disposal to appeal adverse personnel actions. It would abolish the MSPB, sending all complaints of whistleblower retaliation to the Office of Special Counsel, albeit only for 14 days, after which all appeals would go directly to federal appellate courts.
“Most career civil servants do their jobs faithfully day in and day out, but there are still too many federal employees actively undermining America through their blatant contempt for our nation, the rule of law, and the American people,” Roy said in a statement. “That is because policies meant to insulate the government from politics have instead created a dense web of red tape that rewards laziness and noncompliance and enables hostile partisans to entrench themselves within federal agencies. Former President Trump is absolutely right about this: there needs to be a reckoning, and bureaucrats actually need to be fireable.”
Although the bill stands nearly zero chance of passing in the current Congress, experts say that it, combined with recent news that conservative political operatives with Trump’s endorsement have devised plans to revive Schedule F, a proposal to strip the civil service protections from tens of thousands of federal employees in “policy-related” positions, indicates the civil service system as we have known it for the last 150 years will be under attack under the next Republican administration.
“This is obviously a huge and major change, an effort to gear up a major assault on the federal employment system,” said Don Kettl, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. “This is being helped and aided unquestionably by a set of groups like America First Works, Heritage Action for America, FreedomWorks and Citizens for Renewing America, who have endorsed the bill . . . Much of the debate has largely been about if Trump is reelected, but what this makes clear is the efforts to try to change the civil service aren’t just Trump necessarily, and if Republicans take control of Congress following the midterms, this may very well go from idea to specific action.”
Under the bill, the only way a federal employee would be able to fight their termination aside from through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—in instances of discrimination—or OSC and the judiciary if they are whistleblowers is by appealing to the very manager who has proposed firing them. Only an agency head has the power to overrule the official who has proposed firing someone.
Roy said in a statement that his bill preserves protections against discrimination and whistleblower retaliation. But in the case of discrimination, EEOC would be required to toss all of its policies regarding complaints that originate from federal agencies and apply the same standards it uses in private sector cases.
“My bill would make all federal bureaucrats at-will employees—just like private sector workers—and claw back the inordinate protections some federal employees grossly abuse while helping legitimate whistleblowers and victims of discrimination get the justice they deserve,” Roy said.
However, the bill’s purported whistleblower protections suggest just the opposite, Kettl said. OSC only has a 14-day window in which to make nonbinding recommendations on whether an adverse personnel action constitutes retaliation. Another provision requires the deduction of 25% of a federal employee’s retirement annuity if a court finds their appeal to be “in bad faith or frivolous.”
“This dramatically limits the amount of whistleblowing activity that’s possible,” he said. “Going to court is extremely expensive and time consuming. In addition, it creates a disincentive to blow the whistle because your retirement benefits could be reduced. When you put it together, it’s a very big deal. It would dramatically change the incentives for individuals who are being dismissed because of whistleblowing.”