Ever since it was first concocted in 2020, Schedule F continues to be a source of angst for Democratic lawmakers who have put forth multiple bills to block its implementation in the future. President Biden is among the list of Democrats who want to see it terminated and continue to bring it up.
Latest Proposals to Block Future Versions of Schedule F
The 2024 White House budget proposal references Schedule F. A statement in the budget proposal reads, “…the Budget also maintains the Administration’s unwavering support for the career civil service through its advancement of a legislative proposal to block Schedule F, which would threaten the proper functioning of the Federal Government by unduly subjecting career employees to politization and favoritism.”
This appears to be an endorsement for a couple of bills recently introduced in the House and Senate to block Schedule F.
Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) introduced the Saving the Civil Service Act (H.R. 1002) which would ban Schedule F by requiring that any competitive service position in the federal workforce would have to be any of the schedules A through E as described in section 6.2 of title 5, Code of Federal Regulations.
Connolly says that preventing Schedule F would “protect the federal workforce from politicization and political manipulation.” He added:
The former President’s attempt to remove qualified experts and replace them with political loyalists was a direct threat to our national security and our government’s ability to function the way the American people expect it to. Expertise, not political fealty, must define our civil service.
Companion legislation with the same name was also recently introduced in the Senate (S. 399) by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).
Between both bills, there is a total of 24 co-sponsors as of the time of this writing, only one of whom is a Republican.
What is Schedule F?
Schedule F does not exist, but that has not stopped all of the handwringing from politicians who are worried that it might exist in the future.
On October 21, 2020, former President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order called 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 Executive Order was a lack of accountability in the federal workforce. As Trump wrote in the Executive Order:
…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, President Biden revoked this Executive Order along with some others that placed restrictions on federal employee unions. It was one of his first actions as president.
Why All of the Drama Over Schedule F?
There have been arguments on both sides about Schedule F. Like many things in Washington, the opinions are mostly split along political lines with Republicans generally being in favor of Schedule F and Democrats generally opposing it.
Perhaps a more balanced approach to the issue is to look at what the stated arguments are both for and against Schedule F.
Arguments in Favor of Schedule F
A Government Accountability Office report issued last year interviewed various stakeholders to get their opinions about Schedule F. Among the reasons given as to why it might actually be a good thing are speeding up the federal human resources process, both in terms of hiring new employees faster as well as making it easier to fire non-performers, something that federal employees repeatedly say in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is generally not dealt with by agencies.
The GAO report states:
Schedule F would have streamlined the hiring process, potentially resulting in a faster time-to-hire than the competitive service process. E.O. 13957 stated that agencies would have had greater appointment flexibility for Schedule F employees than that provided by the existing competitive service process. Under the competitive service process agencies need to follow several steps to hire an employee, including screening and examination of applicants, and application of veterans’ preference, among others.
On removing federal employees, the report adds:
Some stakeholders said that removals under the current process can be time consuming. There were differences among stakeholders, however, as to whether the possibility of an expedited removal would increase employee accountability and performance. One stakeholder said that career staff must be willing to follow the directions of political staff at agencies or they should face removal, and that the possibility of quick removal would be sufficient to dissuade federal employees from attempting to undermine an administration’s priorities.
Arguments Against Schedule F
There are certainly plenty of arguments against Schedule F also.
One of the arguments for it is also used as an argument against it, that being that it’s easier to remove any applicable federal employees for non-performance. The GAO report states:
…some other stakeholders said that the changes made under Schedule F, including changes to the removal process, would not increase the overall accountability of employees for their performance. For example, some stakeholders stated that, without due process rights, Schedule F could reduce the willingness of civil service employees to challenge potentially inefficient, unethical, or illegal requests from political staff without fear of removal. Further, some stakeholders expressed concern that, under Schedule F, it could be difficult to discern legitimate removal actions for performance or misconduct from those motivated by favoritism or partisan political reasons.
The lack of traditional protections is probably the biggest argument raised against Schedule F. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has been a supporter of legislation to ban Schedule F. She said last year:
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.
Federal human resources expert Jeff Neal has been a vocal critic of Schedule F. He makes the case that Schedule F would lead to a “spoils system” in the federal workforce:
How do we trust data on unemployment, job losses, inflation, or countless other subjects, if the data comes not from career professionals, but from what are basically political appointees who know that anything they do that might disagree with or embarrass the Administration can get them fired? And what happens when an incoming Administration decides to summarily dismiss tens of thousands of employees because they want to bring in their own supporters? That is the very definition of a spoils system.
Given the political divide over the issue, any potential future existence (or lack thereof) of Schedule F will probably largely depend on the proclivities of whichever political party has the majority in Washington.