By Diane Williamson
On October 21, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order to change the civil service rules and make many civil servants more like at-will employees. The executive order weakens civil service protections for five of the six classifications of federal civil service employees, stating:
“Except as required by statute, the Civil Service Rules and Regulations shall not apply to removals from positions listed in Schedules A, C, D, E, or F, or from positions excepted from the competitive service by statute.” (emphasis added)
It is unclear from the Executive Order which rules and regulations can be circumvented. Normally civil service employees, after a year-long probationary period, can only be terminated for unacceptable performance or conduct. In other words, they can only be terminated for cause. Additionally, civil service employees ordinarily have due process rights before they are terminated. While the White House has stated that whistle-blower protections still apply, it remains to be seen which job protections will be eliminated.
Most notably, the executive order creates a new classification of employees, Schedule F, who will be easy to hire and fire. Schedule F is for employees in positions “of a confidential, policy determining, policy making, or policy advocating character.” As noted above, Schedule F employees can be terminated without regard for civil service rules. Employees can be hired into Schedule F without reference to the competitive hiring rules and civil service examinations, which would otherwise preclude political favoritism and nepotism. Agency heads must determine which employees from the other classifications should be changed to Schedule F. The Office of Personnel Management stated that employees placed in Schedule F cannot appeal that decision.
Schedule F employees will be even easier to fire because they can potentially be excluded from union representation. Without an employment contract, they become at-will employees and can be fired for almost any reason.
The executive order allows the President to easily terminate those employees whom he perceives to be critics. The President argues that the executive order is necessary to hold federal employees to high performance standards, but civil service law already allows for terminating employees who do not meet performance standards. And it is difficult to see how employees will be held to a higher standard if they can be hired without competition or examination.
Ronald Sanders, the Head of the Federal Salary Council and lifelong Republican, resigned in protest. He wrote: “I simply cannot be part of an Administration that seeks . . . to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career Federal employees are legally and duty-bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law . . . not to be loyal to a particular President or Administration.”
The National Treasury Employees Union has filed a lawsuit, asking the DC court to block the order from being implement and House Democratic Leaders introduced the “Saving the Civil Service Act.”
 5 C.F.R. 6.2, 6.4