A showdown over President Trump’s “Schedule F” executive order is shaping up as a race between the administration working to put it into effect versus those working to block it.
The order—which would move potentially tens of thousands or more jobs into a new excepted service Schedule F with a loss of appeal and union representation rights for the incumbents—has been highly controversial since it was issued. However, urgency has been building in recent days as agencies have been working to quickly carry it out and opponents look for ways to stop them.
Opponents say the shift would turn those career federal jobs related to policy into politically appointive positions in all but name only. Some have described the order—issued before the election as an intended foundation for personnel policy in a second Trump term—as having morphed since the election into a bid to seed the incoming Biden administration with Trump loyalists.
OMB and OPM have been taking the lead in compiling lists of their own jobs that meet the order’s definition of being of a “policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character” or involving giving confidential advice to top agency officials.
Under the order, it would be up to OPM to redesignate positions, not only for its own employees but also after other agencies present lists of such positions for its action. Under the order, agencies are present a preliminary list to OPM by January 19 and a complete list by late May. The first deadline would present OPM almost no time to act before the Trump administration ends and the second deadline is considered irrelevant, given the widespread expectation that Biden would cancel the order.
However, it now appears that at least OPM and OMB, and potentially other agencies, are positioning themselves to finish their lists within weeks. That could give OPM time to redesignate the positions and for the outgoing Trump administration to use the power to summarily dismiss current employees—and potentially install at least some replacements of its choosing since competition would no longer be required in hiring for such positions.
However, Biden in turn could just as summarily remove any Trump administration-chosen employees and either rehire the career employees who were fired or install replacements of his own choosing. But to do that, Biden would have to leave the order in place long enough for him to use the same new powers that its opponents are denouncing.
Rather than work through such a complicated series of considerations, opponents of the order are aiming to prevent the current administration from converting any positions. Legislation to do so has been offered in both the House and Senate but with little working time left, such a bill likely would not come to a vote on its own. The more promising course for sponsors would be to attach the language to a “must-pass” measure.
Separately, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee overseeing the federal workforce, Gary Peters of Michigan, has asked the GAO to examine and report on agency steps to comply with the order. The order “could precipitate a mass exodus from the federal government at the end of every presidential administration, leaving federal agencies without deep institutional knowledge, expertise, experience, and the ability to develop and implement long-term policy strategies,” he wrote.