Trump administration officials dust off Schedule F, agency relocation plans if reelected

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Former Trump administration officials and lawmakers are revisiting several of President Donald Trump’s most controversial policies affecting the federal workforce as a playbook for a possible second term.

Administration officials on Monday, speaking at the America First Policy Agenda Summit in Washington, D.C. talked about resurrecting Trump’s Schedule F executive order that would make tens of thousands of members of the federal workforce at-will employees.

The executive order, signed in October 2020, but repealed on President Joe Biden’s first day in office, gave agency heads the authority to reclassify certain policy-making positions from the career civil service to the excepted service under this new schedule.

Former Trump administration officials also proposed bringing back policies that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of federal employees and their unions, as well as moving agency headquarters outside of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

Former President Donald Trump, according to recent reports from Axios, plans to make these policies the focus of a not-yet official campaign for a second presidential term.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a former Republican member of Congress, proposed a Republican-controlled Congress advancing two of his bills, the PAGE Act and the MERIT Act. The former would classify all new federal hires as “at-will” employees, while the latter would shorten the disciplinary appeals process for most federal employees. 

Rokita said the legislation would be necessary for a future Republican administration to prevent the federal workforce from undermining their agenda, adding that the appeals process for firing a federal employee takes too long.

“It’s completely unworkable, if you’re there to do a job under President Trump, or any president, and you have limited time. If you want to get that agenda done, you don’t have any time to go chasing around poor employees for part of a 15-year period,” he said.

Former Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy James Sherk, now the director of the Center for American Freedom at the America First Policy Institute, singled out former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, a longtime federal employee, who “boasted about everything she was doing to undermine the policies of the president’s appointees” and circumvented review from White House policy officials.

Birx, in a recent book, described how “rank and file” federal employees would “question everything” that came from political leadership at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House. She also wrote that she re-inserted language into the final versions of reports that administration officials had previously removed.

“There’s obviously room for government experts, and for them to make their views known. But the appropriate procedures are for them to then have conversations with those who are accountable to the people’s elected representatives about the policy, not to unilaterally go behind their back and then boast about how they deceived those who were supposed to be supervising them,” Sherk said.

Former administration officials also proposed using pandemic-era telework as a jumping-off point to relocate more federal employees and their agency offices outside the D.C. area.

Former Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt, who relocated the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado, said some of his best managers at the agency didn’t want to live and work in the D.C. area.

“I think people can report to Washington quite well without living in Washington, and COVID has proven that, because most of the buildings in D.C. are currently vacant, certainly for the government employees. So there’s really no communication reason for not doing it,” Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt said managers cited a high cost of living and longer commutes as their chief complaints about living and working in Washington. He said relocating employees beyond the Beltway would also put them closer to communities they oversee, as well as state and local government officials.

“It saves a ton of money, because rents here are very high, and we pay locality pay here that’s much higher than if somebody was working in Indianapolis. And so I think there is a great deal of merit to taking folks and moving them to other places in the country. I think that has great value. It doesn’t necessarily shrink government, but it does create a more informed government, which I think is in all our interests,” Bernhardt said.

The Biden administration announced last September it would relocate BLM headquarters back to D.C. but would maintain the Grand Junction office as BLM’s “western headquarters.”

Kevin Hassett, a former senior advisor and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Trump administration, recalled a former Cabinet official complaining about telework preventing federal employees from returning to the office.

“People just weren’t coming to work, and they weren’t really, as far as he could tell, doing any work at all. So we have this problem where we have these entitled people that have jobs for life, and they’re not even showing up for work, which means if we got rid of them all, we wouldn’t notice, I would guess,” Hassett said.

Hassett also cited research from the Heritage Foundation claiming federal employees earn about 20% higher pay than they would make in the private sector

“Congress has been giving people pay raises that are way too large for a really long time. They don’t come to work, it’s completely unacceptable, and yet it continues to happen year after year after year,” Hassett said.

“This is one of the things that have to learn and coach the next Republican president about, so that when they come in on Day One, if they can get cleared into the building, they have a plan for how to deal with these people that are there specifically with assignments to obstruct their progress,” he added.

Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jody Hice (R-Ga.) said last week at a hearing on the future of the federal workforce that the Biden administration has created “obstacles that are designed to ensure that it’s just too difficult to deal with poor performers.”

“I support Schedule F, which ensures federal employees cannot thwart the policies that the American people voted for if they don’t agree with them,” Hice said.

The House earlier this month passed the fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act with an amendment that would block future administrations from bringing back Schedule F.  The amendment, introduced by Government Operations Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) passed in a 215-201 vote.

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said in a statement Tuesday raising concerns about former administration officials proposing “additional ways to chip away and destroy the expertise and strength of the federal workforce.”

“The reckless Schedule F order should never be resurrected from the trash heap of terrible ideas. I am extremely disturbed by these recent reports, which outline an ongoing campaign to gut staffing levels, ignore expertise, and dramatically reduce morale within our government agencies. This slash-and-burn strategy is a deliberate display of contempt for career public servants, expertise, and the very functioning of our federal government,” Spanberger said.

Spanberger said a return of Schedule F would target federal scientists, attorneys, diplomats, accountants, subject matter experts, and law enforcement officers.

“Their experience and expertise is honed year after year, regardless of the president or party in the White House,” Spanberger said.

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