Federal employee unions are backing proposed OPM rules to help safeguard merit systems protections from the Trump-era Schedule F policy.

Federal employee unions are backing proposed OPM rules to help safeguard merit systems protections from the Trump-era Schedule F policy. Bill Clark / Getty Images

Union coalition throws support behind OPM’s anti-Schedule F rules

A group of 14 labor organizations led by the National Treasury Employees Union urged the federal government’s HR agency to adopt its proposal to hamstring future efforts to strip feds’ job protections “promptly.”

More than a dozen labor organizations last week urged the Office of Personnel Management to act “promptly” to finalize a series of regulations recently proposed by the agency aimed at making it harder for future administrations to strip federal workers of their civil service protections.

In September, OPM published proposed regulations in the Federal Register that would create new guard rails for federal agencies seeking to convert a portion of its workforce out of the competitive service and into new job categories in the excepted service, including guaranteeing those employees retain their civil service protections after being converted, narrowing the legal definition of “policy-related” jobs to refer only to noncareer political appointments and establishing the right for federal workers to appeal such job reclassifications to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The rules are widely seen as an effort to hamstring a future Republican White House from reviving Schedule F, former President Trump’s abortive effort to convert federal workers in policy-related positions into at-will employees. Although no agency was able to implement Schedule F before Trump left office and President Biden rescinded the executive order establishing the new job category, proposals submitted by agencies indicated that potentially tens of thousands of federal employees could lose their civil service protections if revived, as multiple GOP presidential candidates have vowed to do.

In comments submitted in support of the proposed rule, a group of 14 labor unions, led by the National Treasury Employees Union, lauded OPM’s planned regulations. NTEU previously petitioned the HR agency to develop the regulations in 2022, arguing in part that the establishment of civil service protections created a “property interest” for federal workers that protects them from having those protections taken away.

“No president through an executive order or other action can override the Constitution or Chapter 75 [of the U.S. Code] and remove the property interest of tenured competitive service employees in their continued federal employment,” the unions wrote. “OPM’s language clarifies this well-established, existing employee right.”

The labor groups also were supportive of OPM’s proposed process for job reclassifications going forward, specifically that agencies must submit their reasoning for transferring employees across job categories in advance.

“Requiring agencies to undertake the procedural steps proposed in OPM’s rule will help ensure that agency decisions are reasoned and legally sufficient,” they wrote. “This proposal will also help ensure that these agency decisions are ‘implemented consistent with . . . merit system principles.’ Congress tasked chief human capital officers with advising agencies on carrying out their responsibilities ‘in accordance with merit systems principles.’ OPM’s proposal, which includes review and documentation by CHCOs, is consistent with this congressional objective.”

OPM will continue to accept comments on its proposal until Nov. 17.