OPM officials issued a final regulation Thursday that refined civil service protections and aimed to make it more difficult to apply the Trump-era policy known as Schedule F.

OPM officials issued a final regulation Thursday that refined civil service protections and aimed to make it more difficult to apply the Trump-era policy known as Schedule F. Douglas Rissing / Getty Images

OPM issues its final rule for Schedule F protections

The federal HR agency finalized its rule offering protections for career civil servants meant to safeguard against the potential reemergence of the Trump-era Schedule F policy.

Updated at 11:04 a.m. on April 4 

The Office of Personnel Management issued the final version of its regulation meant to safeguard the civil service from the return of a Trump-era policy that sought to convert most federal employees to at-will workers.

The new regulation — which will be published in the Federal Register for public inspection on Thursday — seeks to provide 2.2 million federal employees with defined protections that would make it difficult for a future administration to re-apply the Trump policy, known as Schedule F.

“We are confident that our final rule is the best reading of civil service statutes and is grounded in the civil service in the statutory language, congressional intent, legislative history and decades of applicable case law and practice,” said OPM Deputy Director Rob Shriver on a press call. “The rule is strong, it will help to ensure the rights employees earned as envisioned by Congress when it enacted the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 and expanded and strengthened those protections through subsequent enactments.”

The regulation has its roots in an October 2020 executive order from the Trump administration that created a new job category for federal employees in policy-related positions, dubbed Schedule F, that would exempt them from civil service protections and make them easier to remove. 

President Joe Biden rescinded the executive order in January 2021 before it could be fully implemented, but nine days before Biden took office, the Office of Management and Budget received OPM approval to move 68% of its workforce into Schedule F. 

OPM officials began working on new regulations to make it difficult to reintroduce Schedule F policies in September 2023, receiving more than 4,000 public comments.

"Today, my administration is announcing protections for 2.2 million career civil servants from political interference, to guarantee that they can carry out their responsibilities in the best interest of the American people," said Biden, in a statement. Day in and day out, career civil servants provide the expertise and continuity necessary for our democracy to function. They provide Americans with life-saving and life-changing services and put opportunity within reach for millions. That’s why since taking office, I have worked to strengthen, empower and rebuild our career workforce. This rule is a step toward combatting corruption and partisan interference to ensure civil servants are able to focus on the most important task at hand: delivering for the American people." 

The final rule states that an employee’s civil service protections cannot be taken away by an involuntary move from the competitive service to the excepted service; clarifies that the “employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating positions” terminology used to define Schedule F employees means noncareer, political appointments and won’t be applied to career civil servants; and sets up an appeals process with the Merit Systems Protection Board for any employees involuntarily transferred from the competitive service to the excepted service and within the excepted service.

The move comes in an election year where Trump is seeking a return to the White House, and GOP allies, and rivals, have sought to revive the policy if elected. 

“If another administration were to disagree with the policies that are reflected in this regulation, first, they would have to follow that full rulemaking process themselves,” said a senior administration official when asked about potential attempts to revive Schedule F. “They would have to justify how a different rule would ensure that decisions to hire and fire were based on how well federal employees served the American people, as is required by the merit system principles that are enshrined in the law, rather than on their political allegiance.”

Biden administration officials said that the regulation is the strongest protection the White House can provide to safeguard against Schedule F, though there have been similar GOP efforts on Capitol Hill last year to codify elements of the policy.   

A senior administration official said the White House would welcome legislation to further strengthen civil service protections, but that the new regulation was “firmly in line” with existing policies in the current law. 

The final rule was largely well-received among stakeholders and groups advocating for good governance. 

“Today’s final rule is a necessary step to prevent partisan abuse of the civil service rules and a return to the failures and corruption of the spoils system of the 1800s, said Max Stier, president and CEO of The Partnership for Public Service, in a statement. "Those rules do, however, need to be updated. Agencies and the administration should continue to explore ways to make our federal government more responsive, transparent and accountable to the American people.  

“Streamlining processes for hiring, performance management and accountability, and preparing managers to support the workforce through the talent lifecycle are just some of the ways the federal government can better serve while adhering to merit principles," he added. "The Partnership stands ready to work with Congress, agencies, administrations of both parties and anyone interested in taking on these important tasks.”   

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Ranking Member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and House Subcommittee on Government Operations and the Federal Workforce Ranking Member Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., both applauded the rule in a statement.

"The president’s job under the Constitution is to take care that all the laws of the people are ‘faithfully executed,’ not demolished at the whim of a despot, Raskin said. "A nonpartisan civil service is essential to governmental effectiveness and fairness because who you vote for should never affect your rightful access to government benefits and services.  This regulation will work to protect a civil service that implements the laws of the people and protects the rights and benefits of the people against partisan manipulation."

Mfume said he was pleased the final regulation was adopted, "Civil servants are the nucleus of our federal workforce and provide the continuity needed to keep our government operating efficiently," he said. "I applaud the Office of Personnel Management for working with my congressional colleagues and me on this rule, because hardworking public servants deserve to be protected from the volatility of electoral politics."

The regulation is expected to go into effect on May 9.