The Biden administration wants to make it difficult for future Republican presidents to decrease the size of the federal bureaucracy.
What is the background?
Most career federal civil servants are competitive service employees hired under a merit-based system typical of the nongovernment marketplace. They receive tremendous employee rights against demotion or termination.
Excepted service employees, on the other hand, work jobs requiring specialized qualifications or skills, such as in law enforcement, intelligence, science, and the law. However, excepted employees do not receive the same job protections as their competitive service counterparts unless they meet strict criteria.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order creating a new job category for federal employees: Schedule F. The new category would have applied to excepted employees whose job exerted any influence over policy. The directive would have essentially made these employee's "at will," and thus would have stripped them of their civil service protections. In theory, it would have made such employees easy to fire.
President Joe Biden rescinded the executive order after taking office.
What is the Biden admin proposing?
The Office of Personnel Management issued a rule proposal on Friday to give federal employees more protections and to rebuff future attempts at slashing the size of the federal workforce.
The new rule stipulates that any federal employee shifted from the competitive service to the excepted service will keep "the status and civil service protections they had already accrued." The rule also clarifies the definition of which employees have influence over policy to mean "noncareer, political appointments."
In a press release, OPM directly cited the Trump administration as motivation for now taking action to protect federal bureaucrats.
"The previous Administration issued an executive order to alter the long-standing system that ensures that decisions to hire and fire career civil servants are based on merit and not loyalty to the President," the agency claimed.
The rule proposal comes as Republican presidential candidates promise to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy — comprising more than 2.2 million employees, according to OPM — if they win the White House.
Vivek Ramaswamy, for example, promises to slash more than 1 million jobs and ultimately 75% of the federal workforce over four years, while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says he will begin cutting jobs on day one of his presidency.
According to FedSmith, the "OPM proposal is obviously about politics and political power." Indeed, poorly performing civil employees are notoriously difficult to demote or terminate. Moreover, civil service employees are supposed to be nonpartisan, but there is a strong perception that a significant number are not.
Should it be difficult to remove overly partisan career employees? That's a question that remains open for debate. But make no doubt about it: the Biden administration is working hard to ensure that partisan and poorly performing employees remain difficult to remove.
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