Trump executive order aimed at increasing agency control of policy-related employees

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President Donald Trump (R) on October 21 issued an executive order, “Executive Order on Creating Schedule F in The Excepted Service,” that directs agencies to reclassify federal civil service employees in the competitive service who serve in policy-related roles as members of the excepted service. Supporters of the order claim that the change will increase agency oversight of staff members who perform policymaking functions while opponents argue that the order will politicize policy-related civil service positions.

The order directs agencies to reclassify competitive service employees who serve in “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions and that are not normally subject to change as a result of a Presidential transition” as members of the newly created Schedule F within the excepted service. As members of the competitive service, these employees have been hired according to a neutral, merit-based selection process and have had protections against at-will removal by their supervisors. As members of the excepted service, these employees will be recruited and hired by agencies to fill certain positions for which candidates cannot be appropriately assessed through the merit-based selection process and will not share in the competitive service’s at-will removal protections.

The classification change, according to the order, aims to give agency heads greater flexibility in the appointment of staff members who serve in policy-related positions. The order also claims that the change will make it easier for agency management to remove poor-performing employees. Though the change makes the qualifying employees ineligible for the adverse action protections of the competitive service, the order directs agencies to develop rules that create similar protections for Schedule F employees. The order also instructs the Federal Labor Relations Authority to determine whether Schedule F positions should be eligible for union membership.

Opponents of the order, including American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley, argue that the order could potentially politicize a large portion of the civil service.

It is unclear how many positions will meet the order’s criteria for Schedule F. Agencies have 90 days from the date of the order to conduct a preliminary review of qualifying staff and must conduct a complete review within 210 days.

This order is the latest in a series of executive orders issued by Trump that seek to make changes within the federal civil service. Trump issued a trio of executive orders in 2018 aimed at facilitating the removal of poor-performing federal employees and streamlining collective bargaining procedures. Public sector unions unsuccessfully challenged the orders in court. That same year, Trump issued an executive order in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lucia v. SEC that moved administrative law judges from the competitive service to the excepted service.

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