Former advisers close to President Trump are working to revitalize and expand his signature proposal to transform federal civil service, according to a new report, and are working with the former commander-in-chief to quickly purge thousands of federal employees should he do so return to office.
The plan as detailed on axios and confirmed by governing board, would bring back Schedule F, a workforce initiative Trump pushed in the 11th hour of his term to politicize the federal bureaucracy. The former officials and current confidants, through a network of Trump-loyal think tanks and public policy organizations, are creating rosters to replace existing officials. They have identified 50,000 current employees to be laid off under the new authority they want to create, axios reported and governing board confirmed, although they hope to actually fire only a fraction of that total and hope the resulting “deterrent effect” will cause the rest to be reconciled.
In October 2020, just before the presidential election, Trump signed his controversial executive order creating a new class of federal employees exempt from competitive service. The order aimed to remove career federal employees in “confidential, policy-making, policy-making, or policy-advocating” jobs from the general schedule into a new job classification that would lack virtually all of their public service protections, which essentially made them become employees. Ultimately, although the Trump administration made efforts to reclassify jobs under the new Plan F, they were unable to transfer workers until January 2021, and President Biden was quick to sign an executive order repealing the edict as one of his first acts as president.
Former Trump administration officials envision moving many employees quickly under the new classification, making those positions eligible for quick hire and firing without the normal protections afforded officials. The new flexibility would allow a future Trump administration to ditch any staffers they feel are getting in the way of their agenda and replace them with loyalists.
“It takes literally five minutes to relaunch it,” said a former Trump administration official who covers personnel policy and current talks about reviving Schedule F governing board. “There was real value in putting out Schedule F because it became a ‘flip the switch’ thing for the next administration that wanted to do it.”
The original Schedule F order was widely condemned by lawmakers – including members of both parties – good government groups, unions, employees and former government officials.
Just last week, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the 2023 annual Defense Authorization Act that would prevent future governments from reviving Schedule F or anything like that. The provision would prevent any president from unilaterally creating a new schedule within the exempted service, effectively forcing the executive branch to ask Congress to make amendments by law. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who has led the fight against Schedule F since Trump first instituted it and wrote the bipartisan defense bill amendment, said his action would “preserve the expertise and non-political loyalty of our workforce.” ”
“However, the danger remains that a future president could attempt to undermine our 140-plus-year-old principles of the merit system by resurrecting something similar to Schedule F,” Connolly said on the House floor. “This change preserves the roles and prerogatives of Congress in determining which federal employees are vested with public service protections and which are not.”
The entire defense bill will undergo significant changes as it makes its way through the Senate, so Connolly’s amendment is far from guaranteed to be included in the final package. While the provision was introduced with a Republican co-sponsor, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., only five Republicans supported it and 201 opposed it.
The former Trump official, who has been thinking about how to most effectively reintroduce the policy, said such an outcome doesn’t necessarily depend on Trump winning the back office, noting that someone like Gov. Ron DeSantis, R- Fla., could also implement it.
“Everyone we’ve spoken to on our site loves it,” the official said. “I haven’t heard anyone on our side say anything other than, ‘This is awesome.'”
If the proposal were to go ahead, the Trump or any other Republican administration would face obstacles in implementing it. Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said her union will try to block the order in court.
“Would we legally challenge it if it happened? Of course we would,” said Simon.
The National Treasury Employees Union launched a lawsuit over the original Plan F, but it was dismissed after Biden overturned the order. Previous legislative efforts to block the policy also fizzled without action.
Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a good government group that usually works closely with every administration on staffing issues and training, said the ideas being discussed in Trump Orbit went beyond Schedule F and constituted a “fundamental misunderstanding.” For a professionalized public service. He suggested that everyone, regardless of their political preferences, should recognize the threat posed by the proposals.
Implementing a president’s policies “depends on a highly skilled, professional workforce [and] That’s what threatens this set of proposals,” Stier said. “What we are hearing described here is a threat to our democracy, to our ability to be a prosperous nation.”
He added that forcing federal employees to flout their oath to the Constitution and instead be loyal to a single president would cause Americans to lose all confidence in their government and make it impossible to hire capable individuals for their to recruit work. Stier said the public “needed to be concerned” about a deterrent effect on federal employees whistling for illegal acts, speaking the truth to those in power, or simply conveying basic facts.
The former official contradicted that characterization, saying the order would not be a test of loyalty for the president, but would tell anyone participating in “deliberate political resistance” that it was time to find a new job. However, the definition and determination of this behavior would be the sole responsibility of the political representatives of the administration. The official accused federal workers of broadly engaging in such resistance during Trump’s administration and said he hoped a renewed Schedule F would cause those workers to reconsider their strategies.
“If you know you’re impossible to fire, you’ll act one way, and if you know you can be fired, you’ll act another way,” the official said.
Simon noted that “serious” government-wide efforts are underway to implement Trump’s order, but the government has simply run out of time. The former Trump administration official similarly said “the clock is up.” The Office of Management and Budget made the most headway, identifying 400 jobs – or 80% of its workforce – that it would convert to vacant employment. axios reported that Russ Vought, who drafted this plan as OMB director under Trump, is playing a key role in preparing for the newly introduced Schedule F policy through his newly formed Center for Renewing America, with Trump’s blessing and financial backing. Other key Trump-era personnel officials, such as former Domestic Policy Council member James Sherk and former Office of Personnel Management director Michael Rigas, are also involved through the America First Policy Institute. Sherk wrote a report last year calling for all government employees to be turned into employment at will to better equip agencies to deal with “incompetence and insubordination.”
Earlier this year, Trump hinted at a rally in South Carolina that he was aware of ongoing efforts as he hovered to revitalize and expand Schedule F.
“We will pass critical reforms that will make every executive branch firer for the President of the United States,” Trump said. “The deep state must and will be brought down.”
Erich Wagner contributed to this report.