Sep 29 2022
Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) this week filed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prevent the politicization of the federal workforce.
The amendment – the Preventing a Patronage System Act, introduced by Senators Feinstein and Kaine in August – would prohibit nonpartisan federal civil service positions from being reclassified as political appointees without the express consent of Congress. The bill would ensure the independence of the civil service and safeguard tens of thousands of federal employees from losing their job protections and due process rights.
“Career federal employees have protections in place to prevent any one administration from firing them and replacing them with political appointees,” said Senator Feinstein. “This is absolutely critical to ensure our government operates effectively. Federal workers fill a range of critical non-political positions ranging from public health to national security to disaster recovery. These positions should remain nonpartisan, independent and based on expertise, and that’s the goal of this amendment.”
“Our civil service plays an invaluable role in everything from our national security to the administration of Social Security benefits. It’s in Americans’ best interest that those positions be filled with the most qualified applicants,” said Senator Kaine. “That’s why we are pushing for commonsense safeguards to protect the merit-based hiring system for our federal workforce, and I urge all of my colleagues to join us in this effort.”
In addition to Senators Feinstein and Kaine, the amendment is cosponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Angus King (I-Maine), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
The federal workforce is comprised of roughly 2 million federal employees hired on the basis of their acumen who work in a range of capacities from researching vaccines to rebuilding communities after disasters to ensuring our food supply is free of disease.
On October 21, 2020, President Trump signed Executive Order 13957 that would have allowed agency heads to reclassify a broad swath of positions to a newly created Schedule F category, stripping many career federal employees of their due process rights and civil service protections. This would have undermined the merit system principles of our federal workforce, as it would have made it easier for any administration to hire political loyalists and fire qualified experts. The Executive Order was repealed by President Biden in January 2021 and never took effect.
According to press reports, the Office of Management and Budget under Trump planned to reclassify 88 percent of its workforce under Schedule F. Trump reportedly plans to reinstate Schedule F immediately if reelected to the presidency, which would allow him to fire up to 50,000 federal workers and replace them with political hires.
Currently, new presidents can make about 4,000 political appointments, approximately 1,200 of which must be confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s move could increase the number of political appointments from 4,000 to approximately 50,000.
The amendment to the NDAA would prevent any position in the competitive service from being reclassified to Schedule F pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order signed on October 21, 2020. This would prevent future administrations from creating new employee classifications in order to hire more political loyalists and fire experts.
The underlying legislation, the Preventing a Patronage System Act, is endorsed by American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Senior Executives Association, National Federation of Federal Employees, Professional Managers Association, American Society for Public Administration, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, National Weather Service Employees Organization, Patent Office Professional Association, United Power Trades Organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Civic Leadership Education and Research Initiative, Project Blueprint, FAA Managers Association, National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys and the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.
Full text of the amendment is available here.