House Democrats Urge OPM to Halt Implementation of Order Politicizing Civil Service

Oct 28, 2020
In The News

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday demanded that the Trump administration halt its implementation of a controversial executive order that could convert tens of thousands of federal workers into at-will employees and turn over all documents related to the directive’s development.

A group of 33 Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., penned a letter addressed to Michael Rigas in his capacities as acting director of the Office of Personnel Management and acting deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, expressing their “grave concerns” with President Trump’s order establishing a new Schedule F within the excepted service for employees in “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, policy-advocating positions.”

“The executive order purports to help managers remove poor performing employees, but it incorporates none of the multitude of remedies offered by experts,” the lawmakers wrote. “Instead, it seeks to undo 137 years of merit system hiring. It is a blatant return to patronage politics and a federal workforce based on cronyism and nepotism.”

The lawmakers requested that Rigas halt “any activities” related to implementation of the order, which has drawn outcry from federal employee unions, associations representing federal managers and executives, and good government experts, until the committee can investigate how the directive was developed and its potential impact on the federal workforce.

“The executive order would precipitate a mass exodus from the federal government at the end of every presidential administration, leaving federal agencies without deep institutional knowledge, expertise, experience, and the ability to develop and implement long-term policy strategies,” they wrote. “It would be a critical loss for the American people.”

They also noted that given the seismic shift that the executive order could cause to federal employment, officials should have consulted with agencies and stakeholder groups before moving forward, comparing the decision to recent efforts to change how the U.S. Postal Service conducts deliveries, leading to significant delays and service disruptions.

“It remains unclear, however, to what extent the White House or federal agencies have analyzed the potential impacts of this proposal on federal workers or the agency missions they carry out,” the lawmakers wrote. “Implementing this new policy without conducting such analyses could have disastrous effects on the services on which the American people rely.”

House Democrats already have introduced legislation that would rescind the executive order and grant back pay to any federal workers fired while the directive is in effect.

It seems unlikely that the committee members’ pleas will reach a sympathetic ear in Rigas. In April, Politico reported that the acting OPM director “questions the constitutionality of the 1883 Pendleton Act,” which first established the nonpartisan civil service. Rigas later denied those allegations in an interview with Government Matters, although he was quick to issue guidance last week giving agencies wide latitude in determining which positions should qualify for the new job classification.