The House passed legislation this week that would prevent future presidents from implementing Schedule F, an initiative of former President Donald Trump that would have reclassified some federal employees as at-will employees, thereby making it easier to remove them for performance reasons.
The bill is known as the Preventing a Patronage System Act (H.R. 302) sponsored by Gerry Connolly (D-VA). The bill was actually introduced in January 2021 but only just now has passed the House.
The legislation prohibits any position in the competitive service from being reclassified to an excepted service schedule created after September 30, 2020. It also would also limit federal employee reclassifications to the five excepted service schedules in use prior to fiscal year 2021 and would block any reclassifications of federal employees to Schedule F pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order signed on October 21, 2020. Any position in the federal competitive service could not be reclassified outside of merit system principles without consent from Congress.
President Trump initiated Schedule F via Executive Order when he was still in office. President Biden then rescinded it via a new Executive Order shortly after he took office.
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.
Democrats have been vehemently opposed to Schedule F, particularly since reports of it resurfaced amid speculation of Trump running for president again.
Connolly said, “The former President’s attempt to remove qualified experts and replace them with political loyalists threatened our national security and our government’s ability to function the way the American people expect it to. Expertise, not fealty must define our civil service.”
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), a proponent of companion legislation to block Schedule F in the Senate, said, “Our career, non-partisan public sector workforce is one of our nation’s greatest assets. The last thing we need is for a president to fire dedicated and experienced public servants and replace them with sycophants and grifters without the skills to carry out the functions of government within the rule of law.”
Republicans, however, have largely been in favor of Schedule F to hold federal employees accountable for non-performance.
Congressman James Comer (R-KY) said:
We should all be in favor of policies making it easier to remove civil servants who refuse to follow the will of the voters. Democrats have made every effort to preserve bureaucrats’ ability to thwart the policies of any president who tries to implement policies to reign in the expansive influence of the federal government over the daily lives of Americans.
Instead of instituting a new “patronage system,” President Trump simply made it easier to discipline or remove civil service officials in our government’s policy-making roles.
These influential federal employees should not be allowed to chronically underperform or actively undermine the work of their politically accountable superiors.
Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) voted against the Preventing a Patronage System Act. He said in remarks ahead of the vote:
The fact is, the bureaucracy has never been more politicized than it is today. This bill is the ‘Federal Bureaucrat Protection Act.’ That’s what this is. Let’s be 100% clear. This is about leftists in this body wanting to protect the entrenched leftists in the bureaucracy, undermining the will of the American people every single day. That’s what it’s about.
We don’t want to allow the people who are running the agencies to go in and fire people who are either not doing their job, completely violating their ethics at the desk, or frankly, are going right against the law or the will of the American people. Look no further than the Department of Homeland Security, which is turning a blind eye to our border. Look no further than an FBI that’s targeting parents for daring to challenge school boards.
That’s what your federal bureaucracy is doing. All of these charges being levied, saying, ‘oh, this is about hate, going after federal employees.’ I’m a former federal prosecutor who worked for the Department of Justice. My father worked in the federal government for 20 years, right here. But I know why the gentleman, my friend, Mr. Beyer, was here: because the richest counties in America are right here in Fairfax, Loudoun County, Montgomery County, feeding right off of the back of the beast that is the federal government, the bureaucrats that are stepping over the will of the American people.
And if we dare put forward legislation, like I have, to say that those bureaucrats should be able to be fired at will. For example, how about the HUD employee caught using his work email for private business deals, the postal employee arrested for bringing cocaine into the workplace, an EPA employee who spent years viewing pornography for two to six hours of the workday. But the fact is, only 25% of federal supervisors felt they could successfully remove an employee, while 78% reported that previous efforts to remove the employee had no effect. Only 3% of whistleblower complaints are substantiated. 175 of 16,000 discrimination complaints were substantiated in 2019.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to preserve an entrenched bureaucracy to step over the will of the people, so that this town can decide the wellbeing of the American people. That’s what it’s about. It’s about power. It’s about the entrenchment of power among bureaucrats, my colleagues know it, and that’s why they’re trying to advance this legislation.
Roy also introduced legislation recently to make it easier to fire federal employees for performance reasons. The legislation would specify that federal employees could face any adverse action, including removal, provided it is not a prohibited personnel practice such as racial discrimination. The bill would also remove the multiple avenues currently in place to appeal the adverse action. It is doubtful, however, that Roy’s bill will advance under the current session of Congress.