The House will vote on a measure this week that would solidify the job security of thousands of federal employees, primarily those who had previously faced uncertainty around their employment security after an executive order was issued by former President Donald Trump.
This order was issued by Trump in October 2020, the month before the presidential election, which established a new employment category for federal workers named “Schedule F.” In this category, individuals working in jobs linked to “policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” would lose protections, including due process rights, which prevent them from being easily fired when a new administration takes office.
That order effectively eliminated civil service employment protection for federal employees that had been in place for more than 135 years.
While President Joe Biden revoked the order not long after entering the White House, there is no law in place preventing a future president from executing such an order again.
And Trump has made it clear that if he is reelected in 2024, he plans to do just that.
During a March rally, Trump told supporters that if he were again to serve as president he would introduce “reforms making every executive branch employee fireable,”
“(This would) allow a Trump to put political people in those jobs,” Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, who has introduced a bill to prevent this executive order from being reintroduced, told Newsweek.
Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported in July that if Trump were to retake office, he plans to reintroduce the effort, putting an estimated 50,000 jobs at risk.
Connolly explained the effect on decision-making in the federal government that Schedule F would have.
“All of a sudden now, because the people making decisions are avowedly political, owing their allegiance not to the Constitution but to the president who appointed them, and they serve at his pleasure or her pleasure.” he said. “They can also now look at everything through a partisan political lens, and that can affect services provided by the federal government.”
Connolly represents Virginia’s 11th Congressional District, an area near the Washington metro area, which houses a large number of federal employees. He said he interacts with these people regularly, and sees them largely as civil servants rather than members of a “deep state” that must be dismantled.
“This right-wing mythology that they’ve created that there’s this deep state that is attempting to thwart the political will of our elected political leadership is completely false — there is zero evidence of that,” Connolly said. “It’s all a myth created in order to expand their partisan political power over the civil service.”
Under the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883, it became unlawful to fire or demote employees for political reasons, ushering in today’s standard, in which positions in the federal government are awarded based on merit rather than their political affiliation. Today, the National Archives writes that the act “applies to most of the 2.9 million” federal jobs.
Connolly’s proposed Preventing a Patronage System Act, which he first introduced in January of 2021, would prevent a president from placing employees under a new schedule without the approval of Congress.
In addition to Connolly, the bill has 16 co-sponsors. Three are Republicans, including Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who served as Connolly’s original partner on the effort.
The passage of this bill could represent a significant victory for Connolly, as he looks to make a case for why he should fill the Democratic party’s top spot on the Oversight and Reform Committee once current chair Carolyn Maloney leaves Congress at the end of this year.
If Republicans take control of the House, the Oversight Committee could become an avenue through which the party launches investigations into President Biden and his administration’s top officials, as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has expressed interest in doing. Connolly would stand at the frontlines in opposing this agenda.
The Virginia Democrat has been a staunch critic of the Trump agenda and the former president’s role in altering the functioning of federal institutions. Connolly served as a prominent voice during the 2020 election when Democrats raised concerns regarding Trump’s choice for Postmaster General Louis Dejoy’s running of the United States Postal Service.
In wake of a federal judge calling DeJoy’s actions a potential “politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Connolly worked as an original co-sponsor to help pass the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act of 2022. In the time since, Connolly has continued to go after DeJoy, introducing legislation to stop him from replacing the postal fleet with gas-powered trucks instead of electric ones.
He likens his work on the DeJoy appointment to his current work on Schedule F. He said both were issues that had not drawn public attention. And, as with Schedule F, the DeJoy appointment sparked questions regarding the politicization of federal government positions long viewed as apolitical.
“A career civil servant, (former Postmaster General) Meghan Brennan retires, and she is replaced by a Republican political donor.” Connolly said.
“What we learned during the Trump years was that so much of our democracy is based on respecting the norms and precedent,” Connolly added. “When you get an individual like Trump, who couldn’t care less about any of that and is not going to respect it, you now have to look at codifying into law behavior that previously was assumed, and Schedule F, this patronage bill, is a good example of that.”