The Trump administration’s order calling on agencies to put policy-related positions into a new excepted service Schedule F has added to the concerns that always arise during a change in party control of the White House regarding burrowing in—political appointees who otherwise would be subject to firing at the new president’s discretion moving into career jobs where they have civil service protections.
Much of the attention on the directive to move jobs related to policy or involving confidential advice to senior officials into the new category has focused on the loss of protections for current employees in such positions; the order also would remove appeal rights and union representation rights for them, leaving them vulnerable to being summarily fired and replaced with persons chosen non-competitively.
However, concern is also now focusing on the potential for moving current political appointees in such positions as Schedule F employees. In a letter to some 60 agencies, the Democratic chairmen of House committees have asked for “a full accounting of any positions converted, or being considered for conversion,” under the order, which they said would “amount to a dramatic change in the composition of the civil service and expose it to undue political influence and intimidation.”
The request came as part of a letter in which they also sought an overall accounting “of political appointees who have already been hired into career positions or are being considered for such conversions.” They asked for an initial reply by Sunday (December 9) and biweekly updates afterward.
OPM in September issued a memo similar to what it traditionally has sent just before a presidential election, reminding agencies that they must submit for its review pre-appointment review of all competitive and non-political excepted service appointment actions that involve the appointment or conversion of a current or former political appointee, Schedule C employee, or noncareer SES member.
While burrowing in is an ongoing issue in the federal workforce, especially around presidential elections, GAO reviews have found only a small number of such conversions relative to the size of the federal workforce and have said that in all but a few the appointee was deemed qualified for the job.
For example, in a 2017 report it found only 69 such conversions over January 2010-March 2016 and said that in almost all cases they “complied with merit system principles, applicable civil service law, and regulations. Similarly, in a 2010 report it said that agencies appeared to have used appropriate authorities and followed proper procedures in making 92 of the 117 conversions from political to career positions reported at the GS-12 level or higher by 26 agencies over the four years ending in May 2009.