Plans to convert approximately 88 percent of the Office of Management and Budget’s employees to the newly established Schedule F could cause long term damage to the agency’s ability to serve presidential administrations, according to a letter signed by 20 former career and political OMB employees.
The conversions are based on a late October executive order signed by President Donald Trump that instructs agencies to convert employees in policy-facing positions out of the civil service and into a new excepted service category, which would make those employees much easier to fire and hire.
“This would, in our view as former OMB officials, fundamentally damage one of the central institutions of our government and would harm the ability of the Biden Administration and any future administration of either party to govern effectively,” the former OMB employees wrote in the letter published by the Senior Executives Association.
The former employees note that in the case of OMB specifically, presidential transitions and policy planning rely on a cadre of employees that have long-term experience in such matters and are unafraid to let political officials know when a particular policy plan is not feasible or more complicated than it looks.
“The designation of up to 425 career officials in OMB as Schedule F employees raises significant procedural and substantive questions about the impact on OMB’s critical work in serving presidents of either party. For example, will the strong analytical qualifications and expertise of people filling these positions change if they can be dismissed without due process protections? Will they offer the same candid advice on the consequences of policies proposed by the president’s political staff in the West Wing or appointees at the top of executive departments and agencies?” the former OMB employees wrote.
“In past years, many OMB career staff stayed on in the agency for years and spent most, if not all, of their working lives at OMB, despite higher salaries in the private sector and often low regard for public servants. If the terms of employment change, will a new administration be able to turn to people with deep knowledge of how government works to inform their choices and help them implement new policies? We fear that the proposed reclassification would break decades of trusted partnership between policy officials and career professionals at the top of our government, thereby weakening the ability of future presidents to govern.”
Legislation currently pending in the Senate would end the Schedule F implementation and convert all employees that were placed under that designation back to their competitive service roles. But employees may still be converted to Schedule F and then fired before any such legislation could pass.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.