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President Donald Trump just made it easier to weed out certain unelected federal employees working in policy-related jobs by cutting back some of their workplace protections.
The president issued an executive order that was the product of nearly four years of effort, making it easier to hire – and fire – federal bureaucrats in a move meant to “increase accountability for Federal employees who make substantive contributions to executive branch policy.” The order, issued earlier this week, gives federal agencies “more flexibility” in holding employees accountable but is being denounced by critics who fear it is politicizing civil servants.
Supporters of the president have frequently pointed to the existence of some career officials referred to as the “deep state,” who continue to be employed in the long-running jobs even as administrations turn over. The White House noted that Trump’s order will allow federal agencies to remove “poor performers” from roles in an easier process while introducing a new classification within the federal workforce called “Schedule F” employees.
“To empower our civil servants to best help others, the government must always operate more efficiently and more securely,” Trump said in a White House statement.
INBOX: @realDonaldTrump has signed an executive order which removes a civil service protections from a large swath of positions “of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character” that don’t turn over with each administration. pic.twitter.com/5St0CiJuQO
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) October 21, 2020
The new class of “Schedule F” employees refers to those serving in “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions that are not normally subject to change as the result of a presidential transition,” according to the order.
These civil servants will now be easier to hire and agencies will have greater flexibility in being able to “remove them without going through a lengthy appeals process.”
“The Government Accountability Office reports that it takes 6 months to 1 year to remove Federal employees for poor performance,” the White House explained.
The order represents the culmination of work by a group of conservatives in the White House who began to work on reining in the sprawling government bureaucracy. Coordinating labor policy for the White House’s Domestic Policy Council was James Sherk who was a former research fellow in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation.
According to The Washington Post:
Soon after Trump took office, a young aide hired from the Heritage Foundation with bold ideas for reining in the sprawling bureaucracy of 2.1 million came up with a blueprint. Trump would hold employees accountable, sideline their labor unions and give the president more power to hire and fire them, much like political appointees.
The plan was a counterweight to the “deep state” Trump believed was out to disrupt his agenda
Despite the alarm from critics, the order does prohibit “certain personnel actions against ‘Schedule F’ employees,” including any that would be based on the “employee’s partisan affiliation, other protected characteristics, or because of the employee’s status as a whistleblower.”
The order creates a “schedule F” for such positions and places them in the excepted service, which makes it easier for them to be fired (for say, disagreeing with the president on a matter of public health). pic.twitter.com/i0P1XUDQLP
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) October 21, 2020
But the largest union for federal employees blasted the order as the “most profound undermining of the civil service in our lifetimes.”
“By targeting federal workers whose jobs involve government policies, the real-world implications of this order will be disastrous for public health, the environment, the defense of our nation, and virtually every facet of our lives,” Everett Kelley, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.
“Through this order, President Trump has declared war on the professional civil service by giving himself the authority to fill the government with his political cronies who will pledge their unwavering loyalty to him – not to America,” Kelley added.
The National Treasury Employees Union also found fault with Trump’s order, calling it “yet another in a long line of attacks on the civil service and circumvention of the laws passed by Congress to protect certain career federal employees from partisan, political interference.”
Congressional Democrats immediately called out the move, accusing the president of using the order as a way to push out the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“This president’s attacks on our federal workforce continue: It seems clear that he wants to be able to fire exemplary career officials like Dr. Fauci and those in the intelligence community who know that they serve the American people and not Donald Trump,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote on Twitter.
Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia also complained about the order as a “radical attack on America’s civil service.”
The executive order Trump quietly issued yesterday is a radical attack on America’s civil service, an attempt to allow firing of federal workers for political disloyalty. It would undermine protections that go back 137 years. I will be working with colleagues to prevent this. https://t.co/bw5BaSGb8j
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) October 22, 2020
The executive order will not affect the Senior Executive Service, the federal employees who serve below presidential appointees.
“President Trump has worked tirelessly to promote an efficient and streamlined Federal bureaucracy,” the statement from the White House explained. “President Trump has delivered on his promise to put in place commonsense reforms to ensure that the Federal Government better serves all Americans.”
U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky praised the president for following through on his promise to the American people to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.
“Our Founding Fathers never envisioned a massive unelected, unaccountable federal government with the power to create policies that impact Americans’ everyday lives. President Trump has long pledged to take on this bureaucracy and restore power to the people by draining the swamp,” the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee said in a statement.
President @realDonaldTrump has fulfilled another promise today by taking on an unaccountable federal bureaucracy and restoring power to the American people.
— Oversight Committee Republicans (@GOPoversight) October 22, 2020
“Today, President Trump again delivered on his promise by signing an executive order that will help make bureaucrats who have the ability to create and implement policy more accountable for their actions,” Comer added. “I applaud President Trump’s efforts and I look forward to working with him to continue to strengthen transparency and accountability in the federal government.”