The Biden administration is seeking to strengthen protections for federal workers as a host of Republican candidates, including frontrunner Donald Trump, make reducing and altering the federal workforce a key component of their campaigns.
In a new proposed rule, the administration seeks to clarify civil service protections for federal workers and make it more difficult to reclassify them into a category where they could be stripped of certain protections.
The move amounts to an effort to preempt a Republican president from gutting the federal civil service, a step then-President Trump had begun attempting in his final days in office.
“The proposed rule honors our 2.2 million career civil servants, helping to ensure they can carry out their duties without fear of political reprisal,” said Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja. “Career federal employees deliver critical services for Americans in every community. Prior attempts to needlessly politicize their work risked harming the American people.”
At the end of his term, Trump signed an executive order that provided him and his agency appointees more leeway in the hiring and firing of federal employees deemed disloyal, a move that critics said politicized civil service and could lead to career officials being pushed out for political reasons.
Trump had routinely vilified some career officials as the “deep state” and sought to rid the federal government of people he viewed as anti-Trump. Critics warned the order would allow Trump to fill the federal workforce with his loyalists.
Trump’s executive order created a new classification of federal employees titled “Schedule F” for employees serving in “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions” that typically do not change during a presidential transition.
Biden reversed the order upon entering office, but many Democrats have pushed for strengthening protections for federal workers to prepare for the possibility that Trump or another Republican is elected.
The rule proposed Friday would make clear that civil service protections cannot be taken away from employees unless they give them up voluntarily. And it would make it harder to shift jobs into a status where protections could be stripped away.
In the Republican presidential primary, a number of candidates have followed Trump’s lead in vowing to reduce the federal workforce. Vivek Ramaswamy said this week he would fire 1 million federal workers. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listed several agencies he would eliminate if elected.
Conservative organizations, many led by former Trump administration officials, have also drafted plans to remove federal employees should a Republican return to the White House.