A new group focused on civil service reform hopes to serve as a counterbalance to the renewal of Schedule F and other policy positions favored by the Trump campaign.

A new group focused on civil service reform hopes to serve as a counterbalance to the renewal of Schedule F and other policy positions favored by the Trump campaign. MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / Getty Images

Governance experts launch a group to oppose Schedule F

The new organization hopes to offer a consensus way forward on civil service reform issues in addition to opposing efforts to politicize the federal workforce.

A new group of experts on government and the civil service has formed to oppose conservative-led efforts to strip federal workers of their due process protections, as well as develop a new middle ground “consensus” for reforming federal personnel policy.

The Working Group to Protect and Reform U.S. Civil Service was devised by political scientist Francis Fukuyama, University of Maryland professor emeritus and former School of Public Policy Dean Don Kettl and administrative law scholar Paul Verkuil.

Kettl told Government Executive that the trio came together because they had noticed a paucity of voices warning against Republicans’ planned revival of Schedule F outside of congressional Democrats and federal employee groups.

“We’ve been talking for quite a while, and we’ve increasingly been concerned not only by Schedule F, but also other proposals planned to be brought back with more gusto by the Trump administration,” he said. “We were concerned that there wasn’t a whole lot of counterargument being made except that everyone thought it was a bad idea . . . There just hasn’t been the kind of strong consensus voice appearing as there has been on the right.”

In the waning months of the Trump administration, the former president signed an executive order creating a new job category in the federal government’s excepted service for “policy-related positions.” Agencies were instructed to come up with lists of jobs that would fit in the new category, at which point workers filling those roles would be removed from the competitive service, effectively making them at-will employees. President Biden promptly rescinded the order when he took office in January 2021, before any jobs could be converted.

But in the intervening years, Trump allies have been hard at work preparing for an “immediate” revival of the policy, drafting a list of 50,000 federal employees to target with conversion to Schedule F and building a database of tens of thousands of political appointees who could be quickly hired under the plan’s laxer hiring regulations. Trump himself has endorsed Schedule F and made it a part of his presidential campaign platform.

The organization’s statement already has 30 signatories, including the three founders, with a mix of good government officials like Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service, center-left scholars like Anne O’Connell and Don Moynihan, as well as some conservatives, like Philip K. Howard and Ron Sanders, the former Federal Salary Council Chairman who resigned over Trump’s Schedule F executive order.

“We believe that the proposed revival of Schedule F will not assist an administration to lawfully and effectively execute its policies, or help meet the forward-looking goals enumerated above, and in fact would dangerously undermine them,” the group wrote in a statement accompanying its formation. “Government workers will not take justified risks or innovate if they feel they are being judged on the basis of political loyalty rather than results.”

But to be successful, Kettl said the group decided it must not simply oppose Schedule F and other civil service reform plans gaining traction on the right. Instead, the self-described “raging moderate” said they will outline a competing vision for the future of public service.

“One thing we concluded before we even started was that we didn’t want just a watered-down thing to ‘salute the flag,’” he said. “We wanted, from the beginning, to put some real teeth into this. So this is not just to combat Schedule F, because it’s far more important to talk about the government we need for the future. It turns out that while there is obviously a wide range of opinions in the group, but there’s remarkable consensus on two things: One is that Schedule F is a bad way to run a government, and secondly is the need to focus much more on questions of improving government performance.”

Accordingly, the group’s statement outlines five pillars for designing the future federal bureaucracy: agility, or the government’s ability to adapt to challenges and crises; accountability, i.e., federal workers’ responsiveness—rather than fealty—to political leaders’ policy decisions; collaboration; outcomes over “simple compliance” with regulations; and capacity, or the idea that agencies should have the resources to fully staff their workforces and successfully attract employees with mission-critical skills.

“An interesting contrast between what we’ve put together and Project 2025 is if you read Project 2025’s [policy agenda], their foundation is individual ideas agency by agency,” Kettl said. “One of the things that we know—and if you read in between the lines of what we argued [in our statement]—is that we’re in a world where just trying to manage problems within agencies is a path to failure . . . The process of making government work in the 21st century is far more complex than that.”