Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., debuted a new version of bipartisan legislation in the House today that aims to “protect the federal workforce from politicization and political manipulation” by preventing wholesale reclassifications of Federal employees without the consent of lawmakers.

The Saving the Civil Service Act, introduced on Feb. 14, renews the policymakers’ push to blunt the effectiveness of any future version of the Trump administration’s Schedule F executive order.

“The civil servants who make up our federal workforce are the engine that keeps our federal government running,” said Rep. Connolly. “We rely on their experience and expertise to provide every basic government service – from delivering the mail to helping families in the wake of natural disasters.”

“The former President’s attempt to remove qualified experts and replace them with political loyalists was a direct threat to our national security and our government’s ability to function the way the American people expect it to,” he added. “Expertise, not political fealty, must define our civil service.”

Reps. Connolly and Fitzpatrick introduced similar legislation in January 2021 – called the formerly Preventing a Patronage System Act – in an effort to halt implementation of the Trump administration’s October 2020 executive order that created a new “Schedule F” classification for Federal employees deemed to be in policy-making positions.

Rep. Connolly led the charge against the implementation of the executive order, which would have made it easier to hire and fire employees put into the proposed Schedule F class, arguing that the order would have created a “patronage system” for Federal jobs.

President Biden cancelled his predecessor’s order shortly after taking office in 2021.

The Preventing a Patronage System Act cleared the House in September by a vote of 225-204, but failed to make it through the Senate.

The legislation introduced today marks lawmakers’ third attempt at blunting any future move toward a Schedule F reclassification. The new bill is cosponsored by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va.

Current law allows presidents to make about 4,000 political appointments, and about 1,200 of those are subject to Senate confirmation. The Schedule F order by the Trump administration would have increased the number of political appointments to 50,000.

“Civil service employment should always be based upon merit and expertise, not political connections,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “The security of our nation depends upon an efficient and competent federal workforce.”

He continued, “This legislation would ensure that political loyalties play no significant role in hiring federal employees, and I’m proud to co-lead this effort to further ensure that our workforce consists of the best and brightest individuals.”

The Saving the Civil Service Act is very similar to the Preventing a Patronage System Act, and would block any future moves to assign Federal workers to newly created “excepted” service schedules.

The bill would prevent any position in the federal competitive service, created after September 30, 2020, from being reclassified outside of merit system principles without the express consent of Congress.

The main thrust in the new version of the anti-Schedule F bill remains the same, but there are a few tweaks – beyond just the new title:

  • Consent will be required from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) before an agency can transfer an employee to the excepted service. Federal employees will also have to consent before an agency can transfer their position;
  • A cap will be installed on how many transfers to the currently excepted Schedule C service that an agency can make during a four-year presidential term. Specifically, the total number of transferred positions cannot exceed either more than one percent of the total number of employees at an agency or five employees, whichever is greater; and
  • OPM will be required annually to report to Congress all positions that were transferred to the excepted service, as well as a justification for why each position was transferred.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., led the reintroduction of the anti-Schedule F companion bill in the Senate today.

“Our dedicated federal workers help keep our government running, protect our national security, and provide essential services to Americans like administering Social Security benefits,” Sen. Kaine said on Feb. 14. “I’m introducing legislation to protect the merit-based federal hiring system and help ensure our federal workers are hired based on their qualifications, not their politics.”

A Government Accountability Office report found that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) had taken some initial steps in the reclassification process in 2020. Although no Federal position was officially reclassified, OMB had planned to shift 136 of its positions into the Schedule F classification.

Additionally, the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission submitted a request to OPM to change five of its workforce positions to Schedule F – out of a total of 234 employees.

The Trump executive order quickly drew negative attention from lawmakers, unions, and Federal employee advocacy organizations.

Today, both the Senate and House bills received endorsements from several organizations that support the government workforce.

“We commend Representative Connolly and Senator Kaine – two true friends of federal workers – for introducing the ‘Saving the Civil Service Act’ to prevent a return to 19th century patronage hiring,” said Everett Kelley, the national president for the American Federation of Government Employees. “This legislation would finally slam the door shut on one of the last administration’s worst ideas, which was to unilaterally declare untold thousands of existing career civil servants to be at-will political appointees.”

William Shackelford the national president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Union said, “The Saving the Civil Service Act provides a bipartisan, congressional check on misuse of executive powers by limiting the ability of any president to bypass the merit-based civil service framework through broad new exceptions to longstanding rules.” He added, “It ensures federal employees are hired and fired based on their ability to perform the job – or not – and not based on political connections.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.