The House will vote this week on a measure that would ensure job security for thousands of federal employees who previously faced uncertainty about their job security following an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump.
Trump issued an order in October 2020, the month before the presidential election, which established a new job category for federal workers called “Schedule F.” In this category, individuals in jobs related to “policy determination, policy development, or policy advocacy” would lose the protections, including due process rights, that prevent them from being easily dismissed when a new administration takes office.
This order effectively eliminated public service job protection for federal employees that had been in place for more than 135 years.
Although President Joe Biden revoked the order shortly after entering the White House, no law prevents a future president from carrying out such an order again.
And Trump has made it clear that if he wins re-election in 2024, he plans to do so.
At a rally in March, Trump told his supporters that if he were ever to serve as president again, he would introduce “reforms making every executive branch employee fireable”, later justifying the action by saying : “the Deep State must and will be brought into line”.
“(It would allow) a Trump to put politicians in those jobs,” Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who introduced a bill to prevent the executive order from being reintroduced, told Newsweek.
Jonathan Swan of Axios reported in July that if Trump were to return to office, he planned to reintroduce the effort, putting an estimated 50,000 jobs at risk.
Connolly explained the effect on decision-making within the federal government that Schedule F would have.
“All of a sudden now, because the people making the decisions are overtly political, owe their allegiance not to the Constitution but to the president who appointed them, and they serve as he pleases or as he sees fit.” he said. “They can also now look at everything through a partisan political lens, and that can affect services provided by the federal government.”
Connolly represents Virginia’s 11th congressional district, an area near the Washington metro area that is home to a large number of federal employees. He said he regularly interacts with these people and largely views them as public servants rather than members of a “deep state” that needs to be dismantled.
“This right-wing mythology they’ve created that this deep state is trying to thwart the political will of our elected political leaders is completely false — there’s no evidence of that,” Connolly said. “It’s all a myth created in order to extend their partisan political power over the civil service.”
Under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, it became illegal to fire or demote employees for political reasons, ushering in the current norm, in which positions in the federal government are awarded on the basis of merit rather than of their political affiliation. Today, the National Archives writes that the law “applies to most of the 2.9 million” federal jobs.
Connolly’s proposed patronage system prevention bill, which he first introduced in January 2021, would prevent a president from placing employees on a new schedule without congressional approval.
In addition to Connolly, the bill has 16 co-sponsors. Three are Republicans, including Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who was Connolly’s initial partner in the effort.
Passing the bill could represent a significant victory for Connolly as he seeks to explain why he should take the Democratic Party’s top spot on the Oversight and Reform Committee once current chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, will leave Congress at the end of this year.
If Republicans take control of the House, the oversight committee could become an avenue through which the party launches investigations into President Biden and senior officials in his administration, as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has expressed interest in do it. Connolly would stand at the forefront of opposing this program.
The Virginia Democrat has been a staunch critic of Trump’s agenda and the former president’s role in changing the way federal institutions work. Connolly was a prominent voice in the 2020 election when Democrats raised concerns about Trump’s choice to run the United States Postal Service by Postmaster General Louis Dejoy.
Following a federal judge calling DeJoy’s actions a “politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Connolly worked as an original co-sponsor to help pass the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act. postal service by 2022. Since then, Connolly has continued to go after DeJoy, introducing legislation to prevent him from replacing the postal fleet with gas-powered trucks instead of electric trucks.
He compares his work on DeJoy’s nomination to his current work on Schedule F. He said both were issues that didn’t get public attention. And, as with Schedule F, DeJoy’s appointment has raised questions about the politicization of federal government positions long considered apolitical.
“A career civil servant, (former Postmaster General) Meghan Brennan is retiring, and she is being replaced by a Republican political donor.” said Connolly.
“What we learned during the Trump years is that much of our democracy is based on respecting norms and precedents,” Connolly added. “When you get an individual like Trump, who doesn’t care about all of this and isn’t going to respect it, you now have to consider codifying into law behavior that was previously assumed, and schedule F, this bill on favoritism, is a good example.”
To read this story as it appeared on Newsweek, click here.