Schedule F: Union, media stories decry damage to civil service
- By Nathan Abse
- Oct 23, 2020
President Trump in recent days has taken a giant leap—backwards. That is to say, you have to go way back in history to find a White House trying so hard to taint the civil service with politics.
That’s the critical tenor of most news coverage—along with union outrage—that’s come in the wake of the president’s latest Executive Order—penned on Oct. 21. The order in effect permits agencies to reclassify anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of currently non-political federal civil service jobs—likely GS-13 and above, those that involve employees in “policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions.” These would be placed under a new “Schedule F” status, making them completely open to White House control—politicizing far more of the civil service than has ever been attempted before, at least not in more than a century.
“Agencies should have a greater degree of appointment flexibility with respect to these employees than is afforded by the existing competitive service process,” the EO states as part of the justification for the move.
Federal employee unions and advocacy organizations are up at arms over the EO.
“This is the most profound undermining of the civil service in our lifetimes,” Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said. “The president has doubled down on his effort to politicize and corrupt the professional service.”
“This executive order strips due process rights and protections from perhaps hundreds of thousands of federal employees and will enable political appointees and other officials to hire and fire these workers at will,” Kelley continued.
Another major union also fired off choice words against the action.
“We are disgusted at President Trump’s executive order designed to invite corruption into the federal government,” said Randy Erwin, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, in an emailed release. “Our President does not get the concept of an independent civil service that serves the American people, and that is a scary thought.”
“If there was ever a case to strengthen civil service laws, President Trump just made it,” he continued.
“The new ‘Schedule F’ federal employee category created through [the] Executive Order threatens the centuries-long integrity of nonpartisan professionals by forming a broad exception to the competitive civil service,” Ken Thomas, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, said in a statement. “The new exception demolishes the rule that civil servants are hired and fired based on merit, not political affiliation, a tradition that has served our country well since the late 1800s.”
“In one fell swoop, this order renders political fodder of senior career experts who, thanks to their training, experience and judgment have risen to the top of their professions and whose work benefits all Americans,” Thomas added. Indeed, the reclassification would apply to thousands of scientists, engineers and other crucial public trust jobs—jobs where evidence and not political allegiance has been the controlling force. “We must maintain that insulated cadre of impartial civil servants. To do so otherwise threatens to form a massive black hole in the center of the competitive civil service system, swallowing it up entirely, to the detriment of government of, by and for the people.”
The EO, if implemented—it could be rescinded, as is likely if there is a change of president—removes affected employees out of the competitive service altogether, and they would no longer have recourse to challenge adverse employment actions—including removal—taken against them. Senior Executive Service leaders, it should be noted, appear not to be covered by the order.
The Washington Post, the New York Times, Federal Times and other major media outlets also offer early news story coverage of the EO. There are also strongly worded opinion pieces against the move available here and here, and some others in favor—at least of studying Schedule F’s possible merits—here.