The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) on September 21 issued a proposed rule that would reclassify administrative law judges (ALJ) within the federal civil service. The proposed rule aims to implement President Donald Trump’s (R) Executive Order 13843 of July 2018, which moved ALJs from the competitive service to the excepted service.
Prior to E.O. 13843, OPM screened ALJ candidates through a merit-based selection process as part of the competitive service. Agencies could only hire ALJs from OPM’s pool of vetted candidates.
President Trump issued E.O. 13843 in response to the United States Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision in _Lucia v. SEC_, which held that ALJs are officers of the United States who must be appointed by the president, the courts, or agency heads rather than hired by agency staff. The reclassification of ALJs as members of the excepted service allows agency heads to directly appoint ALJs and select candidates who meet specific agency qualifications, according to the order.
Opponents of Trump’s executive order have argued that moving ALJs outside of the competitive service threatens their impartiality by allowing partisan agency heads to appoint ALJs based on their own standards.
The proposed rule from OPM requires that agency heads appoint new ALJs to positions within the excepted service. The proposed rule also clarifies that certain protections aimed at ensuring the independence of ALJs remain intact, such as the prohibition against agencies subjecting ALJs to performance reviews and the role of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) in overseeing ALJ discipline. The proposed rule is open to public comments through November 20, 2020.