A coalition of federal employee organizations is looking to an upcoming spending bill as potential way to block the Trump administration’s recent executive order to convert many thousands of competitive service positions involved with policy to the excepted service.
The Federal Workers Alliance, consisting of more than two dozen unions and other groups, has asked the congressional appropriations committees to bar agencies from spending money to carry out the order as part of a continued funding bill that will be needed after current temporary spending authority expires December 11.
The order would shift to the excepted service tens of thousands, and potentially 100,000 or more, positions involved in making, advocating for or carrying out policy, as well as positions giving confidential advice to senior agency leadership. In the process, current employees would lose their appeal rights and union representation, and in filling such positions public notice and competition would no longer be required, nor would veterans preference.
Under the order, agencies have until January 19—the day before Inauguration Day—to conduct a preliminary review of such positions and ask OPM to convert them to a new excepted service Schedule F, with an additional 120 days to complete a full review and submit any additional positions.
“This is a transparent attempt to burrow political operatives into the ranks of career civil service well after President Trump leaves office. If allowed to stand, this new policy would set a dangerous precedent and send the clear message to all federal workers that in order to retain their jobs they must show loyalty to whoever may be sitting in the Oval Office,” the letter said.
Opponents of the order also are arguing that while whistleblower protections still would apply, an administration could end-run that protection by reclassifying jobs as involved in making or carrying out policy even if that is just a peripheral part of the duties.
Leading House Democrats on civil service issues made similar arguments in a letter to OPM and OMB calling for a halt to the policy and for a full explanation of how it came about, saying it was developed without input from outside stakeholders—such as themselves and employee organizations. They are sponsoring legislation (HR-8687) to prohibit implementation, the kind of language that could become the basis for a provision in a later spending bill.
The NTEU union further has brought a suit against the order but attaching restrictive language to a “must-pass” continuing appropriations measure is seen as the holding the best prospects for blocking the order in the short run.