Fire-proof civil servants: Good idea, right?

Federal unions, many good government groups and much of the media have attacked President Trump’s proposal to make it easy to fire hundreds — if not thousands — of career feds now protected by civil service rules.

They’ve warned that the executive order would move many career workers into the proposed new Schedule F category. Stripped of their civil service fireproofing they would be more likely be “team players.”

More likely to endorse/implement policies and statements even if they believed they were wrong, dangerous or untrue. Or illegal.

By the same token many past presidents — from both political parties — have at one time or another complained about foot-dragging bureaucrats trying to influence or delay policy changes.

Although this administration probably holds the record for attacks on the civil service — the FBI, IRS, CIA, CDC, NIH and other agencies — other presidents have also been frustrated or furious over some century-old rules.

It seems even grimmer now to many, what with charges of a deep state operating in government.

Currently only a few thousand workers are in the political Schedule C category which has zero job security. Schedule F would expand that greatly.

The new Schedule F plan to make the bureaucracy more responsive comes at a time when the White House is at war with top federal health experts over how to handle the coronavirus: That includes everything from the use of face masks to the impact of social distancing and testing on the economy as well as claims and confusion about the use of untested drugs.

The thought of an unprotected, spineless career bureaucracy is unnerving to many.

But on the other side, some fear that partisan feds, protected by civil service rules, could make or break policy.

Either way the assumption has been that since this came from the Trump White House, the Schedule F order will be buried if former Vice President Joe Biden is declared the winner.

But would it? Should it?

A recent column here about the Schedule F proposal brought this response from a long-time, Maryland-based fed. He may reflect the thinking of many other citizen/feds.

He says: “The assumption has been that should Biden win, after all the court battles, that he would rescind this executive order. I wouldn’t be that sure, once he is in office.”

Having that sort of control over the top rungs of the civil service “might be very handy for the next administration,” he says.

Here’s his take which may be shared by other long-time feds:

“The new F-schedule will probably not have as big an impact overall as many people have declared it will. Among other things, there is the American ability to muddle along.

In various articles of the past three years, federal employees have been quoted, as saying, The administration will not let me do my job.’ Who are these people? Meat inspectors, Border Patrol agents, workers in the Corps of Engineers Navigation division? No. (Well a few agents did say that during the Obama administration.). Some scientists have been quoted as saying they cannot do their science any more. What that really means is that the area of inquiry that they had been pursuing is no longer a priority. They need to investigate something else that has a priority. I know from experience of a research institution, where a number of researchers were investigating things that had virtually no relationship to the institution/agency mission for years. A New Boss came in (not even political) and changed that, as he should have. The same with analysts, etc. The point is that the job is determined by the organization/boss, not what the individual would like to do. (I sure would prefer to be doing what I was doing 10-20 years ago, but the Boss wants/needs something different right now. If I could, I would retire, but I still need that paycheck.) If the federal employee always performed what was asked of him/her then the concept of a non-political workforce would be valid.

Unfortunately, I have seen staff slow-walk things on the hopes that things could be dragged out to the next election. And similar ‘resistance.’ So there is a reason for this Schedule F. For most agencies it will not be a big deal. For agencies that make policy or regulations, execute policy-related activities, it will be used more than the others. We will know how much after it happens. This will somewhat address those situations where staff or management is working against administration policy. This will make it easier than the existing tools.

There are existing tools to address these situations, though. Basically, the recalcitrant employees can be charged with insubordination. It’s in the regulations of most agencies. It is rarely, if ever, used. (Disciplinary charges against management is in general very rarely used for anything, based on my observation, unless it involves money.). One reason for that is that the HR functions that I have had to work with were loath to do anything serious, do anything which might result in push back. ‘Instead of the five days’ suspension that was recommended, we will give you one day, if you agree to it.’ But insubordination is the big daddy. To make it stick, there needs to be very clear undisputed documentation/evidence. And a willingness to follow through. Very few managers, whether civil servant or politically appointed, want to spend time on that, when they could be doing ‘important things.’ It is the same reason that the FEVS shows many agencies having a problem with dealing with poor performers. “

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Brian Bradley

Honey hunters in Mozambique use special calls to recruit the services of birds known as honeyguides. The birds lead the humans to bees’ nests and in return, they get the leftover beeswax.

Source: Mental Floss

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