Federal agencies racing to strip rights from civil servants before Biden administration

Josh Marcus
·3-min read
<p>Just before the election the president instituted a sweeping reorganization of the federal workforce designed to make it easier to fire career civil servants</p> (AFP via Getty Images)

Just before the election the president instituted a sweeping reorganization of the federal workforce designed to make it easier to fire career civil servants

(AFP via Getty Images)

As inauguration day closes in, federal agencies are racing to strip career civil servants of long-standing job protections to comply with an October directive from president Trump. The move could rattle key departments before president elect Biden takes office.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently sent a list of employees who could be reclassified under an October executive order from the president, which curtailed strong due process and union protections enjoyed by thousands of federal employees, RealClearPolitics reported. The president has long fumed about a “deep state” of career civil servants who he believes are resisting his agenda and his political appointees at various agencies.

The switch at OMB would affect 425 career analysts, or about 88 percent of the workforce at the office, a key node in the federal government responsible for formulating and implementing high-level fiscal and personnel planning.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, we are committed to full accountability of policy making officials, as Congress intended, and implementing merit principles,” OMB director Russ Vought told RCP. “This is another step to make Washington accountable to the American people.”

Other key agencies, like the Office of Personnel Management, are trying to reshuffle many of their thousands of employees as well before the inauguration, a senior official told The Washington Post on Friday.

In October, the president ordered government agencies to report back to him by 19 January with lists of employees who could be reclassified under the order, the day before the presidential inauguration, in a move seen by many as a way to purge disfavored employees from agencies and help cement the influence of Trump administration political appointees, some of whom have been hired into career roles.

The practical effect of these lists is unclear though, as employees could sue, a lawsuit from the National Treasury Employees Union against the executive order could proceed, or the Biden administration could rehire various staff who lost their jobs.

Democrats in Congress have pushed back against what they perceived as a threat to the career federal workforce.

On Wednesday, numerous oversight committees in the House of Representatives sent a letter to agency leaders asking for a “full accounting” of employees who were put into the new, less protected worker status under the order, called Schedule F, as well as political employees hired into career positions, a practice that has accelerated under the Trump administration.

“Protecting the nonpartisan expertise of the career civil service is essential to the safety and security of the American people,” the letter reads. “Federal law requires that personnel actions are carried out in such a way that the ‘selection and advancement’ of employees in the civil service are ‘determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills, after fair and open competition,’ rather than on the basis of ‘partisan political purposes.’"

Senate Democrats have also pushed legislation to block the executive order.

Over 2 million people work in the federal government, most of them career civil servants who follow a merit-based promotion system and are granted a lengthy appeals process before any firing decisions are made.

Union representatives for federal employees blasted Mr Trump’s new policy, one of the most sweeping changes to the government workforce in decades, which will affect federal scientists, attorneys, regulators, and public health experts, among others.

“I am calling this a declaration of war on the civil service,” Richard Loeb, senior policy counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union representing federal workers, told The Washington Post at the time.

The president has taken other moves to gain more influence over the civil service, such as limiting government workers’ union rights, reflecting his administration’s broader approach, who has opposed labor protections deemed inconvenient and inefficient for business, especially during coronavirus.

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