Two newly introduced bills in Congress – one by a group of House Republicans, the other by several Senate Democrats – show sharply differing visions for the federal workforce of the future as the parties define positions ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections and with eyes already turning to 2024.
The House bill (HR-8550) reflects many of the policies the Trump administration sought to carry out – which the Biden administration quickly revoked – that sought to cut back employee rights to challenge disciplinary actions. However, it would go even beyond those policies by making all federal employment “at will” – something other Republicans have pushed unsuccessfully in the past.
In that status, they could “ face any adverse action, including removal, provided it is not a prohibited personnel practice such as racial discrimination. The bill also removes the multiple existing pathways to appeal the adverse action, which are grossly abused by poor-performing or politically motivated bureaucrats,” said a statement from main sponsor Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas.
Under the bill, employees would be entitled to only a notice of proposed discipline and 14 days in which to respond, with a final decision to be made by someone other than the proposing official – which would take effect in another 7 days without appeal rights.
The MSPB would be abolished but the Office of Special Counsel would remain and could recommend a different course if it finds the action was motivated by retaliation for whistleblowing, and employees could challenge a personnel action in federal court by alleging reprisal. Internal processes for alleging violations of anti-discrimination also would be abolished but employees still could appeal to the EEOC using the process applying to private sector employees.
The bill reflects recent support being voiced for a return of Trump-style personnel policies in a future Republican presidential administration, potentially one headed by him. It stands virtually no chance of enactment with Democrats in control of the Congress and White House, though.
Meanwhile, a bill offered by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and other Democrats to bar a future order like the one Trump issued late in his term to in essence turn competitive service federal employees involved in policy matters into political appointees under a new excepted service Schedule F. The number of employees who would have been affected by the order, which Biden promptly revoked, never was determined but a commonly used estimate is 50,000.
“It’s in Americans’ best interest that those positions be filled with the most qualified applicants. This legislation would put commonsense safeguards in place,” Kaine said of a bill that is backed by numerous federal employee unions, management associations, professional associations and good-government groups.
That move is the latest of a series designed to head off a possible revival of a Schedule F through only an executive order. The House has passed a defense bill with language barring any expansion of the excepted service while an appropriations bill written by Senate Democratic leaders would achieve the same goal, although worded somewhat differently. Those bills likely won’t receive final action until later in the year.