WASHINGTON — Two years ago, then-President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to determine which of their employees could be reassigned to Schedule F, a new class of jobs that could be hired or fired at will.
None of the roughly 96 agencies successfully converted any positions into Schedule F by the time the Biden administration swiftly revoked the order in January 2021. And since then, Democrats have been working to codify a ban on any future plans to reinstate such a reclassification.
What the Government Accountability Office did discover in reviewing the policy is that two agencies submitted written requests to the White House’s Office of Personnel Management to place positions into Schedule F.
GAO interviewed officials from selected agencies who submitted a response to OPM related to Schedule F or conducted preliminary analysis to identify eligible positions.
The Office of Management and Budget, whose 610 employees formulate government spending plans each year, asked to convert 136 job classifications which would’ve affected 415 employees, or 68% of OMB’s workforce at the time, according to a report out this week from the Government Accountability Office.
OMB officials said in the report that agency leadership sought a petition because they wanted to comply with an executive order. A former OPM official involved with the strategy told GAO the reason OMB submitted a petition first was because then-administration officials wanted OMB to serve as an example for other agencies.
The U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission, which handles certain conflicts between the U.S. and Mexico and has 234 employees, was the second to request placing positions into Schedule F. The agency determined that just five of its workers move to Schedule F.
IBWC cited expedited hiring provided by Schedule F as an advantage when competing for qualified candidates, particularly in remote border offices where it is challenging to recruit and retain key personnel, GAO said.
Another factor officials noted was the desire to have employees who the commissioner trusted to expeditiously carry out policy decisions. Finally, they said that there was a desire to have the flexibility to quickly remove poorly performing employees rather than wait for them to retire, leave, or go through the removal process, which they said was lengthy.
The idea was to make these reclassified positions excepted from merit-based rules, competitive examinations and even veteran preferences to streamline the hiring and firing process overall. Critics said Schedule F would simply allow a president to remove officials for political reasons, or simply because they didn’t like them.
Civil service personnel laws require agencies hiring through the competitive service to screen applicants against minimum qualifications, notify the public of an opening, apply selection preferences and formally assess applicants’ knowledge and skills against the job’s responsibilities.
These requirements kept the aptitude of a candidate, and how well they fit the job, at the center of appointments. Schedule F would have hinged hiring decisions on political preference instead.
OPM issued no regulations related to Schedule F before the executive order was revoked.
“Unfortunately, as GAO highlights, OPM took a back seat approach–waiting for agencies to experience issues before making attempts to provide clarity through implementing regulations,” said Marcus Hill, vice chair of the board of directors for the Senior Executives Association, which represents senior career leaders across the federal government, in.a statement.
GAO was asked to review the implementation of Schedule F for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by democrats Carolyn Maloney of New York and Gerry Connolly of Virginia.
Where did federal agencies fall?
Of those that GAO surveyed, OMB and the International Boundary and Water Commission were the only two that submitted petitions to place employees into Schedule F.
Seven agencies responded to OPM’s request for Schedule F-eligible positions, but did not complete a petition because they did not have any positions that met the criteria or because they would submit a petition at a later time:
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Department of the Treasury
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
- Federal Trade Commission
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- Office of Personnel Management
And these agencies said did not submit a petition at all, saying they did not have positions that met the Schedule F criteria.
- Corporation for National and Community Service
- Federal Maritime Commission
- Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
- National Archives and Records Administration
- National Transportation Safety Board
- National Labor Relations Board
“This is what the Schedule F debate is ultimately about: who will decide the future of the federal workforce, The President or Congress? If it is the president, taxpayers and regulated entities will experience significant changes in their interactions with government with each new administration,” Hill said in a statement.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.