The Democratic senator said that Trump's abortive effort to make thousands of federal workers effectively at-will employees was not really aimed at dealing with poor performers, and was “not honest.”
A Democratic senator who has been working on the effort to block Republican-led efforts to strip potentially tens of thousands of federal employees of their civil service protections said Wednesday that he is “optimistic” his legislation will receive a vote on the Senate floor before the end of the year.
In an interview with Government Executive, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the return of Schedule F, an abortive effort by the Trump administration to reclassify thousands of federal employees in “policy-related” positions outside of the competitive service, effectively making them at-will employees and akin to political appointees, would be disastrous not only for the workers affected but for the broader administration of government.
“We saw Trump really try to reward loyalty to him as a person over expertise, qualifications and loyalty to the Constitution,” he said. “There were many political appointees during the last administration who were fine public servants, but there were also many who were political hacks who had no business getting into public service, and they didn’t approach the job with an appreciation for public service . . . As someone in a state with a high number of federal employees and who serves on multiple national security committees, I can easily see how debilitating it would be, especially to the safety of our country, if a president comes in and re-implements it.”
Following Trump’s signing of an executive order establishing Schedule F, lawmakers worked to block the measure, but were unsuccessful. When President Biden took office, he quickly rescinded Trump’s executive order establishing Schedule F before any positions could be reclassified, and lawmakers turned to other priorities. But reporting earlier this year, first by Axios, revealed that a cadre of conservative activists have continued to work on the initiative, with an eye toward reimplementing the policy immediately following a Republican president’s election, going so far as to identify upwards of 50,000 employees who could be targeted with firing.
Since then, Democrats in Congress have worked to pass the Preventing a Patronage System Act, which would require advanced congressional approval of any plan to create new schedules within the excepted service, including Schedule F. The House has already passed the bill twice, once as a standalone bill as well as via an amendment to the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
Kaine has been at the center of efforts to move the bill in the Senate, cosponsoring the legislation and, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and others, pushing to include it as an amendment to the Senate version of the annual Defense policy bill. Kaine said he is confident the bill will receive a floor vote before the end of the year, whether as a standalone bill or as an amendment either to the NDAA or an omnibus spending package to fund the government until next September.
“We’re going to push very hard for this to be taken up,” he said. “There are some Republicans [who are opposed to the legislation], but there are others who would see the danger of this . . . I know we would get all Democratic votes, and although I haven’t done a whip count on it yet or know exactly where we’d get the 10 Republican votes [to survive a filibuster], but I have optimism that we could get this included and sufficient votes to get this passed.”
Kaine took a dim view of arguments floated by Republicans in opposition to the bill when it was up for debate in the House that Schedule F is needed because it is too difficult for federal agencies to fire poor performers.
“If they were sincerely interested in performance questions, they would be proposing adjustments to our civil service laws,” he said. “Instead, they’re not doing that; they’re saying, ‘We should be able to wholesale reclassify people into political appointees. This has nothing to do with performance. It has everything to do with, ‘We want people to be loyal to one guy—the guy at the top.’ . . . They’re cloaking their personality cult-based patronage proposal in a performance verbiage, but it’s not honest.”
Kaine said that if implemented, Schedule F would not only harm federal agencies’ ability to meet their missions, turning thousands of critical positions into political appointments that must be replaced with each change of administration, but it would also crush the government’s ability to recruit new federal workers.
“At the front end, it will affect recruiting the best and brightest into government,” Kaine said. “People will think, ‘I felt like I’ve got this great job offer, but at any moment I could be reclassified and kicked out,' or they could feel not valued because they’re not a campaign contributor or a big enough bundler for the president, or maybe didn’t do enough to get him into office . . . This is not so much about protecting the individual employee, but rather about protecting the quality of work that’s done by a workforce whose goal every day is to serve the American people.”
This article was published first on GovExec, a FederalSoup partner site.