In October 2020, then-President Trump signed Executive Order 13957, creating a new federal job classification known as Schedule F appointments. In simple terms, Schedule F was designed to make it far easier for political officials to fire and discipline non-political policy-focused government workers. While the legal basis for the executive order originates from an interpretation of the widely-lauded Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, the new employment designation’s goal was quite simple: to increase the control of political officials over non-partisan, career civil servants.
For many Georgians, this Washingtonian political maneuvering may not seem particularly important. But in reality, recent statistics show that over 150,000 Georgia residents are employed by the U.S. Government, making up almost 4% of the Federal Civil Service. Given the loose definition of “policy-focused” federal employees provided by the Executive Order, this re-classification could easily affect thousands of hardworking Georgians across the state. Within the downtown Athens Robert B. Stephens Federal Building alone, there are hundreds of potentially affected employees working for agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the General Service Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the F.B.I.
President Trump lost re-election just a month after he unveiled the policy, and given the sprawling nature of the federal government, no agency was able to convert employees to Schedule F appointments by the time he left office. When control of federal workforce policy moved to the newly-inaugurated Biden-Harris Administration that January, the policy was repealed with a new Executive Order. While Schedule F has been put on hold for now, reviving the idea has become a key component of Republican presidential candidates’ platforms in the 2024 race. In March 2022, President Trump promised to take Schedule F even further, declaring that a second Trump Administration would “pass critical reforms making every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States,” adding that “the deep state must and will be brought to heel.” Other candidates, such as Vivek Ramaswamy, have proposed firing up to 75% of the federal workforce and entirely disbanding agencies such as the Department of Education, the F.B.I., the Food and Nutrition Service, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
As contempt of non-partisan government workers becomes part of the G.O.P. mainstream, Georgia’s national leaders should work in any way possible to protect America’s Civil Service employees. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and U.S. Representatives Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Saving the Civil Service Act to their respective chambers in February this year. The identical bills, which are not currently co-sponsored by any member of the Georgia delegation in either the House or the Senate, aim to legally prohibit any member of the competitive civil service from being reclassified to Schedule F, moving the debate away from the realm of Executive Orders and into codified law. As Senator Kaine put it, the proposal is meant to “protect the merit-based federal hiring system and help ensure our federal workers are hired based on their qualifications, not their politics.” Given the large swath of Georgians who could be affected by the revival and implementation of Schedule F, our state’s federal representatives in Washington should be actively working to secure passage of the bill.
Schedule F, as well as the related inflammatory and dangerous rhetoric of high-level Republicans, presents a clear and present threat to the stability of American democracy. The tradition of merit-based civil service employment established in this country as far back as the 1800s should be one of our nation’s prized institutions, not a political crutch. Georgian leaders, from the federal to local levels, should do everything possible to ensure policies like the Saving the Civil Service Act are passed into law as soon as possible.