Former President Donald Trump's executive order, known as Schedule F, had been approved to remove civil protections from most OMB employees before it was rescinded by President Biden in 2021.

Former President Donald Trump's executive order, known as Schedule F, had been approved to remove civil protections from most OMB employees before it was rescinded by President Biden in 2021. Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

One agency’s Trump-era plan included stripping protections from 68% of its workforce

The Office of Management and Budget appeared to have taken a maximalist approach to the controversial job category, proposing to strip the civil service protections from IT workers, recruiters and even executive assistants.

A tranche of newly publicized documents stemming from the Trump administration’s abortive effort to strip thousands of federal workers of their civil service protections suggests that the plan to make employees in policy-related positions was even more widespread than initially indicated.

In the waning months of the Trump administration, the then-president signed an executive order creating a new classification of federal jobs called Schedule F, reserved for jobs involved in policy creation and advocacy or of an otherwise confidential nature.

Each federal agency was expected to scour its organizational charts and submit lists of jobs to the Office of Personnel Management to move from the competitive service to the new job category, effectively making the people occupying those roles at-will employees.

Ultimately, no jobs were converted into the new job category before President Biden took office in January 2021 and rescinded Trump’s executive order. But one agency got close: the Office of Management and Budget received OPM approval on Jan. 11, 2021, to move 68% of its workforce into Schedule F.

The National Treasury Employees Union on Tuesday published more than 300 pages worth of OMB documents associated with its effort to implement Schedule F, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The trove of documents indicates that positions eligible for the new job category could be far wider than initially suggested by the plan’s proponents, as the former president makes its revival a key piece of his campaign to return to office.

As an arm of the White House, OMB naturally would have a higher concentration of employees in positions related to the policy-making and advocacy process. But OMB’s submissions to OPM—one dated Nov. 20, 2020, and a supplemental request on Jan. 5, 2021—take a maximalist approach. In addition to policy analysts and attorneys, the office also proposed jobs like statisticians, IT specialists and even office managers and executive assistants.

In some cases, jobs are set for conversion to Schedule F simply based on the employee’s proximity to high-ranking policy officials. And in others, the positions are slated for conversion because the employees work on technical systems that other officials then use to create policies.

“Because the position’s duties involve, among others, building consensus around [U.S. Digital Service] strategies and goals, developing strategic partnerships, working with senior officials, acting as an agency spokesman and serving as a member of policy-making projects and groups, the position meets the element of ‘substantive participation in the advocacy for or development or formulation of policy,’” OMB wrote in reference to a recruiter job within the U.S. Digital Service.

NTEU National President Doreen Greenwald told reporters Tuesday that the newly uncovered documents show just how destructive a revival of Schedule F could be if scaled across the federal government.

“The bottom line is, looking at OMB’s list, they stretched the definition of ‘policy-related’ to the point of absurdities,” she said. “Under these broad definitions, tens of thousands in every agency could be swept up in this, including many GS-12s and below. They tried to convert as many employees as possible regardless of their duties, just to make it easier for them to fire. If employees moved to Schedule F are removed entirely, they’ll be replaced by unqualified partisans, or they’ll stay knowing they can be fired at will, while we’re left with malfunctioning agencies and the rapid deterioration of the merit-based civil service.”

Don Kettl, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and a former dean of its School of Public Policy, said he was struck by how widely Trump’s OMB interpreted the definition of policy-related work.

“My mind went back to Sharpie-Gate, and if you look at that incident, you can see the kind of risks that could come through in the process we’re talking about,” he said. “You can imagine some people who are not going to be included, like air traffic controllers and TSA workers and maybe border guards, but in IRS how deep might it go? Or the people in Social Security calculating benefits? And that dividing line could always be subject to change.”

He also noted the apparently cursory review process OPM undertook before approving all but four jobs—all presidential management fellows, which are already outside of the competitive service—for conversion to Schedule F. OPM’s approval was dated Jan. 11, 2021, less than a week after OMB’s supplemental request. Given how quickly—and quietly—OPM’s approval came, Kettl warned that many feds could be fired, or threatened with firing without much public attention.

“What kind of recordkeeping and data will be available on exactly who is put in Schedule F and who might be dismissed?” he asked. “It would be insanity operationally to replace all 50,000 [as proposed by its proponents] immediately, but say there are 5,000, some small fraction. Will we know who, in real-time, and be able to assess the implications of all this?”