The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) today announced a proposed rule that aims to protect career civil servants against a controversial Trump-era Federal workforce policy known as “Schedule F,” which makes it easier to fire Federal employees.

The proposed rule would strengthen protections for the civil service system, clarifying and reinforcing statutory protections for career civil servants.

“The proposed rule honors our 2.2 million career civil servants, helping to ensure they can carry out their duties without fear of political reprisal,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja said in a press release. “Career Federal employees deliver critical services for Americans in every community. Prior attempts to needlessly politicize their work risked harming the American people.”

Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in October 2020 that created the “Schedule F” classification for Federal employees deemed to be in policy-making positions.

Democrats including Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., led the charge against the implementation of the executive order, which would have made it easier to hire and fire employees put into the proposed Schedule F class, arguing that the order would have created a “patronage system” for Federal jobs.

President Biden canceled his predecessor’s order shortly after taking office in 2021.

“From day one, the Biden-Harris administration has been committed to strengthening, empowering, and rebuilding the Federal workforce, and today’s announcement reaffirms this commitment,” said White House Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller. “A strong and capable Federal workforce is critical for the Federal government to deliver for the American people.”

The proposed rule would allow Federal employees to keep their existing job protections and clarify that these protections cannot be taken away unless the employee gives up these rights voluntarily.

It would also clarify the definition of positions that are “confidential, policy determining, policymaking, or policy-advocating” to mean non-career, political appointments – which are expected to turn over when a president’s term ends. These positions do not have civil service protections, and the rule intends to prevent that exception to those protections.

OPM is also proposing the establishment of procedural requirements for moving positions “from the competitive service to the excepted service and within the excepted service.” The agency said this change would create transparency and an appeals process for Federal employees.

The public now has 60 days to submit comments on the Federal Register on the proposed rule.

Members of Congress expressed optimism today about the proposed rule’s ability to protect the Federal workforce, including Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, and Rep. Connolly, ranking member for the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Government Innovation.

“This action will ensure that our climate scientists and emergency preparedness experts are hired on the basis of their knowledge and expertise – not because of their partisan service and subservience to a single president,” said Rep. Raskin. “In America, the Federal civil service pledges loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, not to a dictator or party leader. I thank OPM for taking this essential action to maintain the integrity and effectiveness of our professional civil service.”

“I welcome this regulation as an important first step toward protecting the merit-based principles of our civil service and preventing politicization of the Federal workforce,” added Rep. Connolly. “There are those who would stop at nothing to denigrate Federal employees and exert untoward influence over what should be purely apolitical functions of the Federal government. For the sake of our democracy and the dedicated public servants who make it work, they must not prevail.”

Reps. Connolly and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., introduced the Saving the Civil Service Act in February, which would prevent the wholesale reclassifications of Federal employees without the consent of lawmakers. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., led the reintroduction of the anti-Schedule F companion bill in the Senate.

On the other side, Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate recently reintroduced a bill reminiscent of Schedule F that would make it easier to fire Federal employees, making them at-will workers.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, introduced the Public Service Reform Act in May, which they said aims to increase accountability and efficiency in the Federal government by removing “poor-performing employees.”

“We never want another attempt at Schedule F but just in case, this rule establishes some important guardrails to ensure that whatever is done is consistent with civil service laws and regulations,” National Treasury Employees Union National President Doreen Greenwald said today in a statement about OPM’s proposed rule.

“The merit-based civil service is a critical part of our democracy, and no one should be able to undo that by executive order,” Greenwald added.

“I think our proposed regulation is strong and based in law and has a strong rationale. We will go through the public comment period and will address comments and make any adjustments we need,” OPM Deputy Director Rob Shriver said in a statement. “But we are confident in the strength of our proposed regulation. Anyone who wants to explore a change in policy would have work to do. They’d have to go through the same administrative rulemaking process and make sure that their policy is grounded in the law.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.