The formal start of the presidential transition has underscored the differing priorities for the federal workforce under the outgoing Trump and incoming Biden administrations, with still nearly two months remaining for the former to try to lock in its policies and the latter developing plans to reverse many of them.
One area of special attention involves the recent executive order to shift many employees involved with making or carrying out policy into the excepted service and strip away their appeal rights and bargaining rights. Under the order, agencies are to send preliminary lists of positions to OPM, which then would formally shift them into a new Schedule F.
The first deadline for sending such lists to OPM is January 19—a day before Inauguration Day—but there have been indications that some agencies are moving quickly on that initiative.
That could result in a change of status before then of potentially many thousands of employees, at least some of whom might be summarily fired and possibly replaced with Trump appointees—who could be quickly put in place because the order also exempts such positions from competition in hiring.
There have been news reports that, for example, OMB already has determined that as many as nine-tenths of its career employees would be potentially affected.
Biden is widely expected to overturn that order but the task would be more complex if any such changes were already made by the time he takes office.
Bills have been offered in both the House and Senate with the goal of overturning the order more quickly, which sponsors may attempt to attach to a bill to be considered soon to fund the government beyond the December 11 expiration of the current temporary spending authority. The Trump administration likely would strongly oppose such a move, though, potentially threatening a veto of what is considered a “must-pass” bill.
Separately, OPM is continuing to review the content of materials used in diversity and inclusiveness type training for content banned by another recent executive order. The inspector general offices of a number of agencies meanwhile have started reviews of compliance with that order. All that work could simply be discarded if Biden overturns that order, which also is widely expected.
Other work still underway that may later be discarded involves negotiations in which agencies are continuing to hold to positions set by Trump executive orders restricting the scope of bargaining, official time, and more. Biden has specifically said he would cancel those orders and unions already are looking to renegotiating existing contracts that reflect those policies, which they say could be done if both sides agree to reopen negotiations.
Also set for change are the key positions affecting federal workforce policy, including the directors and deputy directors of OPM and OMB, all three seats on the MSPB governing board, and the FLRA general counsel’s position. Biden also could replace with a Democrat one of the two Republicans on that three-member board, who is serving on an extension.
So far the Biden team has focused mainly on senior White House and some Cabinet positions and has given no indication of potential nominees for those positions, who likely will hold very different views than the incumbents or currently pending nominees.