Former President Donald Trump’s Schedule F executive order would have led to a major reckoning within the federal civil service, but his successor repealed it in his first week in office.
Now the House Oversight and Reform Committee has passed a bipartisan bill that would prevent any administration from moving federal jobs outside the competitive service without approval from Congress.
The Preventing a Patronage System Act, sponsored by Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), would effectively prevent the White House, as the Trump administration proposed, from moving “policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” positions outside the competitive service.
Federal employees transferred to Schedule F, under the Trump administration’s executive order, would have lost civil service protections and would have been easier to fire.
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“This bill would prevent this from ever happening again. It would fortify the protections of civil service employees, ensuring that they can continue to do their important, non-partisan work,” Committee Chairwoman Maloney (D-N.Y.) said at Tuesday’s markup.
Connolly said the bill would rebalance the role between the White House and Congress in making “sweeping changes” that impact the federal workforce.
“We have to insist the Congress is in the action here, that no executive unilaterally can do what was done with Schedule F in the future,” Connolly said.
Committee Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.) pushed back at the bill’s characterization of Schedule F as a “patronage system,” saying the now-repealed executive order “simply made it easier to discipline or remove civil service officials in policymaking roles or actively work to undermine the work of their politically accountable supervisors.”
The Office of Management and Budget, prior to the executive order’s repeal, planned to reclassify more than 400 staff positions to Schedule F, about 88% of its workforce, according to a memo obtained by Real Clear Politics last November.
The bill has support from the American Federation of Government Employees, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the Senior Executives Association, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.
“It is unfortunate that this legislation is even necessary but we came all too close to backsliding into a spoils system under the last administration, so we encourage the House to move quickly and give federal employees assurance that their jobs will continue to be based on skill, not politics,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said in a statement following the committee’s markup vote.
The committee also approved the Performance Enhancement Reform Act, which would make IT modernization and evidence-based decision-making an integral part of the agency’s annual performance plans.
Connolly, a cosponsor of the bill, said agencies are only required to have their chief human capital officers draft the performance plans, “leaving much of the agency’s leadership expertise outside of the planning process itself.”
The bill would also require agency performance to include descriptions of the human capital training, data, IT and workforce skill sets needed for the agency to meet its performance goals.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.), the bill’s other co-sponsor, said the legislation would give agency chief information officers, chief data officers and chief financial officers more of a say in crafting these performance plans.
“The reality is that if agency leaders fail to directly involve their technology leadership in the planning process for expanding their operations or agency operations, then obviously there’s going to be a much higher risk of failure at the end of the day,” Hice said.
The bill has support from the Partnership for Public Service, the Data Foundation, the Alliance for Digital Innovation and the Information Technology Industry Council.
IG reform bill moves forward
The committee also approved a bill that would give agency inspectors general greater independence from presidential firings, the authority to subpoena former federal employees and contractors, and more urgency within the White House to name permanent watchdogs to positions left vacant for years.
The IG Independence and Empowerment Act folds together several bills that lawmakers previously introduced to give IGs more investigative muscle and more job protections.
The legislation would limit a president’s ability to remove a sitting IG under a defined set of “for cause” reasons. It would also set up whistleblower training for IGs and their staff, and would give IGs subpoena authority to get testimony from contractors and former federal employees.
The bill would also prevent “dual-hatted” arrangements where an agency or the president names a current agency official to serve as its acting IG.
Maloney, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation would “ensure that inspectors general can do their jobs without fear of political retaliation and with all the tools needed to conduct thorough investigations.”
The bill also includes the IG Protection Act, which would require the president to notify Congress if he hasn’t nominated an IG within 210 days of a position becoming vacant.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he supports the bill and compared it to a continuum of IG reform bills over the past 40 years that the committee has led.
The committee, for example, led the Inspector General Empowerment Act Congress passed in 2016, which clarified the IG community’s access to all agency information and records without exception.
“Without this reform, it would have been exceedingly difficult to complete many of my office’s recent high profile reviews,” Horowitz said.
The bill has support from the Project on Government Oversight, which contributed testimony at a committee hearing on the bill last month.
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said the bill would give IGs the “resources, independence, and accountability” needed to conduct agency oversight.
“The public and Congress depend on inspectors general to ensure our federal agencies are functioning effectively. We strongly urge Congress to pass this legislation expeditiously so that these watchdogs have the necessary independence and authorities to do their critical work,” Brian said.