Salary Council appointee resigns, calls Schedule F executive order a ‘red line’

Ron Sanders, a longtime federal leader and three-year Trump administration appointee, said the president's recent EO would prevent career employees from speakin...

A long-serving federal executive and three-year Trump administration appointee is resigning from his post over the president’s recent executive order on the career workforce.

Ron Sanders, chairman of the Federal Salary Council, submitted his resignation Monday to John McEntee, the director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

“I do so with great regret, because while I am proud of the progress the Salary Council has made during my tenure, much work remains to be done,” Sanders wrote. “However, after seeing Executive Order 13957 issued by the president on Oct. 21 — which creates a new ‘excepted service’ for certain categories of career federal employees — I have concluded that as a matter of conscience, I can no longer serve him or his administration.”

The executive order in question, which President Donald Trump signed last week, reclassifies career federal positions in certain policy-making roles under a new class known as Schedule F. It allows agency heads to hire and fire employees in Schedule F appointments at will.

The Trump administration has said the order will allow agencies to more quickly hold federal employees with significant influence over policy-making decisions accountable.

“It is clear that its stated purpose notwithstanding, the executive order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the president, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process,” Sanders said of the EO.

He went on to describe himself as a lifelong member of the Republican party, having served three Republican and three Democrat presidents as a career federal employee.

Regardless of their political affiliation, career federal federal employees take an oath to the Constitution, not to a particular political party or president, he said. It’s why the careers for many federal employees, like Sanders, often span multiple administrations.

Yet Sanders described this latest executive order as a loyalty “litmus test” for career federal employees.

“To some, requiring that loyalty may seem entirely appropriate,” he said. “After all, shouldn’t all employees do what the boss and his lieutenants tell them to do? I say no, at least not when it comes to career civil servants. The only ‘boss’ that they serve is the public, and the laws that their elected representatives enact, whether this or any president likes it or not. And if a president doesn’t like it, he can propose that the Congress change the law. That is the way our Constitution is supposed to work, and no president should be able to remove career civil servants whose only sin is that they may speak such a truth to him.”

The Trump administration tapped Sanders in 2017 to lead the Federal Salary Council as an independent HR expert. For Sanders, his critique of the Schedule F executive order was an example of him lending his human resources expertise.

As former chief capital officer for the intelligence community, Sanders said he had experience in moving employees to new personnel systems in the excepted service.

“The practice has always been that employees who lose civil service protections would be given a choice,” he said in brief conversation with Federal News Network.

“From a public policy standpoint, there’s a reason for having those civil service protections,” he added “They allow career employees to speak truth to power. They allow them to give the advice they’re paid to give.”

Sanders spent his federal career with several agencies, including the Defense Department, IRS and Office of Personnel Management as a human resources director.

Today, he serves as the director of the University of Florida’s Cybersecurity Center and remains an active member of the federal community.

Hours before the White House released the Schedule F executive order last Wednesday, Sanders led a four-hour public meeting of the Salary Council, where he fielded locality pay frustrations from federal employees and debated highly technical programmatic changes with employee unions.

But he said he saw the Schedule F executive order as a “red line.”

“I found myself thinking about all the times I spoke truth to power. This would have covered me for most of my federal career,” he said. “There were times when I gave advice and it was accepted. And there were times it wasn’t, and that was OK.”

“It wasn’t that I disagreed with the merits — although I do — this order could prevent that sort of discussion from happening … and I can’t tell you how important that discussion is.”

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