President Donald Trump has issued an executive order that would remove job protections for many federal workers, in a move that unions and other critics denounced as an attempt to politicize the civil service.
The order, signed Wednesday evening, targets workers that are involved in developing policy. It would reclassify workers “in positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character” that are “not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition” into a new category called Schedule F, according to the text.
Under the new schedule, they would be exempt from protections that apply to most federal workers — allowing agencies to hire and fire them more easily and quickly. The Senior Executive Service, which consists of those serving in high-level positions just below presidential appointees, is exempt from the order, according to an emailed statement from the White House.
Agencies must determine which employees fit the description and reclassify them under the new schedule. They have 90 days, or until Jan. 19 — the day before the next presidential inauguration — to do so. They must also “expeditiously petition” the Federal Labor Relations Authority to remove the positions in question from any bargaining unit, preventing union participation, the order reads.
The change will “enhance accountability for Federal employees who are responsible for making policy decisions that significantly affect the American people,” the statement from the White House read. The order itself says that with the help of the new schedule, agencies can more efficiently weed out “poor performers.”
Unions and Democrats were quick to criticize the move as a bid to inject politics into the public sector workforce.
“This is the most profound undermining of the civil service in our lifetimes,” American Federation of Government Employees President Everett Kelley said in a statement Thursday. “The president has doubled down on his effort to politicize and corrupt the professional service.”
“This executive order strips due process rights and protections from perhaps hundreds of thousands of federal employees and will enable political appointees and other officials to hire and fire these workers at will.”
Though it’s unclear how many employees would be affected, the order provides a potentially sweeping list: Those who are responsible for drafting regulations; perform “substantive policy-related work”; supervise attorneys; report to presidential appointees; or negotiate collective bargaining agreements are among those who could be reclassified.
The order comes less than two weeks before a presidential election in which Trump is fighting hard to win a second term. It blurs the line between political appointees and career employees: If Trump wins, the change would make it easier to remove civil servants who do not agree with his administration’s policies. If he loses, it could, in theory, make it easier for political appointees to transition into civil servant roles, allowing them to stay beyond the transition.
“I‘ve been warning for some time that, if Trump is re-elected, he’ll work to politicize the civil service and set America on a path back to the 19th century, when the spoils system made Feds loyal to political patrons,” former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub tweeted. “That‘s bad if you don’t like corruption and abuses of power.”
Democrats indicated they may try to stop the order.
“President Trump’s new executive order would overturn a 150-year-old precedent that created an expert non-partisan civil service and return us to the ‘spoils system’ of political governance,” House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “Congress must ensure President Trump isn’t allowed to politicize these critical policy positions.”