Fear and Loathing Over Schedule F and 50,000 Federal Jobs

Schedule F was introduced in 2020 and is still making headlines. Here is a quick summary of why it is important.

What is Schedule F?

Schedule F does not exist. But, despite its lack of existence, it has created a rash of fear and loathing in the media and among Democrats and their other political allies. Here is the background.

On October 21, 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on “Creating Schedule F in the Excepted Service.”

The Executive Order would have removed some federal positions from the competitive service. The positions impacted would have been those of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character. These jobs are often filled by people who are not normally replaced when a new president assumes office.

They would be exempt from both the competitive hiring rules and adverse action procedures under chapter 75 of title 5 of the United States Code.

The rationale behind the Trump Executive Order was lack of accountability in the federal workforce.

…I find that conditions of good administration make necessary an exception to the competitive hiring rules and examinations for career positions in the Federal service of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character….Placing these positions in the excepted service will mitigate undue limitations on their selection. This action will also give agencies greater ability and discretion to assess critical qualities in applicants to fill these positions, such as work ethic, judgment, and ability to meet the particular needs of the agency….

Unfortunately, the Government’s current performance management is inadequate, as recognized by Federal workers themselves. For instance, the 2016 Merit Principles Survey reveals that less than a quarter of Federal employees believe their agency addresses poor performers effectively.

On January 21, 2021, the day after his inauguration, the new President, Joe Biden, revoked this Executive Order. It was one of his first actions as president.

His quick action was not a surprise. As The Hill reported, this Executive Order would have been “the biggest change to federal workforce protections in a century, converting many federal workers to ‘at will’ employment.” 

Schedule F Resurfaces and Ignites Fear of the Future

In late July, an article entitled A radical plan for Trump’s second term appeared in Axios. The main focus of the article was Schedule F and Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is likely to run again to try and become the Republican nominee for president. He has not made this announcement but strong indications are that this is his intention. If he does run, he may (or may not) be successful in securing the nomination within the Republican party. And, if he should be the nominee, there is no guarantee he would win the election again as there are numerous strong opponents against his nomination in the press and in the Republican party. Donald Trump is controversial and other Republicans may have a better chance of winning.

The Axios article struck fear in the hearts of reporters and the federal establishment. Within days, multiple pages in a search engine appeared, largely explaining the fear accompanying the possibility of Schedule F emerging (again) as a way of reshaping the federal workforce.

Democrats and their allies (largely federal employee unions) quickly rallied around efforts to stop the resurgence of Schedule F as quickly as possible and to take action before the mid-term elections which may result in changing control of the House and Senate.

Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairs the subcommittee that oversees the federal civil service. He was so concerned about Schedule F that he attached an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill to prevent any possible resurrection of Schedule F. The House passed the amendment but Republicans may block it in the Senate.

On August 2, 2022, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and a few other Democrats introduced The Preventing a Patronage System Act. In a press release, Senator Kaine stated the bill is “legislation that would prevent any position in the federal civil service from being reclassified outside of merit system principles without the express consent of Congress. This bill would secure the civil service and protect tens of thousands of federal employees from losing job protections and due process rights.”

Why the Fear of Boring Details About Minutiae of Federal Government Operations?

We can be reasonably sure that most people would not delve into the minutiae of the federal government’s human resources system. It is a safe bet that very few not employed as human resources specialists care to spend time reading government regulations and pronouncements from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In my experience, many human resources specialists do not read this stuff until absolutely necessary, if then.

What are the arguments on the two sides of the issue? Why did Donald Trump want Schedule F implemented? Why is there so much consternation about how the federal government is staffed?

Here is one description of why some see Schedule F as a good idea:

(Schedule F) would have fundamentally changed, in the best possible way, the entire functioning of the administrative bureaucracy that rules this country in a way that bypasses both the legislative and judicial process, and has ruined the checks and balances inherent in the US Constitution….

The gradual rise of this 4th branch of government – which is very much the most powerful branch – has reduced the American political process to mere theater as compared with the real activity of government, which rests with the permanent bureaucracy….

(Schedule F) would have gotten us closer to the restoration of a Constitutional system of government in which we have 3 – not 4 – branches of government that are wholly controlled by the people’s representatives. It would have gone a long way toward gutting the administrative state of its power and returning the affairs of state to the people’s control…. 

On the other side of the argument, Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote this about the new bill proposed to halt any implementation of Schedule F:

Workplace protections for federal workers exist for a reason: so any one administration cannot fire career employees and install their own political appointees. Career federal workers are committed to public service and serving the greater good, and they fulfill a range of critical roles from protecting national security to bolstering our nation’s pandemic response to safeguarding our communities. These career federal employees must be protected from politics so they can do their jobs, and that’s what our bill would accomplish.

Perhaps a more articulate argument for the bill was written by Jeff Neal, an expert in federal human resources issues:

The bill is called the Preventing a Patronage System Act because the federal government has experience with a patronage system. Nothing about that experience was good. Prior to the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883, the federal government was filled with patronage jobs. The spoils system meant that every change of administrations resulted in a mad dash for partisans to get a government job. The primary qualification for a job was not experience, but rather politics.


Schedule F discussions, despite concerning and requiring some insight into how the federal bureaucracy actually works, are important and ignite strong reactions. One side is concerned about the lack of control over government policy, how these policies are decided, and the influence of unelected and often invisible decision-makers from inside the federal government.

On the other side of the discussion, there is concern about having more political appointees assuming power after a change in administrations, the lack of continuity in government, the lack of protection for federal employees in the jobs that they have, and the possible rise of a “spoils system” of government.

Both sides have reasonable concerns. Both sides represent vested interests in how government runs and the influences that determine government policies. The intensity of the argument reflects the underlying importance of the issue.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47