Legislation is sprouting on both sides of Congress that would make federal employees at-will, effectively cutting off paths for recourse if an employee feels they have been removed unfairly.
In the Senate, Rick Scott (R-Fl.) and Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) reintroduced the Public Service Reform Act on May 9 with companion legislation in the House led by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tx.)
“It’s clear that the bureaucracy of the federal government is both a waste of taxpayer dollars and inefficient,” Sen. Scott said in a statement on Tuesday. “Red tape and bloated federal agencies constantly slow down progress and hamper American innovation.”
Trimming the bureaucracy is a popular stance for conservatives, many of whom see the 2-million large civilian workforce as a budget line item to strike. The Public Service Reform Act would also dismantle the Merit Systems Protection Board, which protects federal employees from management and adjudicates individual employees’ appeals. The bill also limits appeals from individuals following termination, unless they’re claiming whistleblower retaliation or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints.
“Any employee in the executive branch of the federal government shall be considered at-will [and] may be subject to any adverse personnel action (up to and including removal) for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all,” the bill text says. It also provides that an employee has two weeks to respond to written notification of their proposed removal, though an agency head can alter that response period if they wish.
The enforcement would be up to the President, which threw up alarms for some who feared the bill would take up former President Donald Trump’s failed attempt to reclassify federal employees into an unprotected class called Schedule F.
“Called the ‘Public Service Reform Act,’ it should really be titled the ‘Public Service Extermination Act,’” wrote Dennis Jett, a professor of international affairs at Penn State University and former U.S. ambassador, in the Foreign Service Journal. “It would make all federal jobs ‘at will,’ all 2 million of them. That would quite simply return the United States to a mid-19th-century style of governance and the squalor of the spoils system.”
The bill was first introduced in July with support from Reps. Mary Miller (R-Il.), Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), Bob Good (R-Va.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.).
The measure resurfaced again on Monday, in the middle of Public Service Recognition Week.
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.