New rule poses a major obstacle for Trump’s workforce overhaul if re-elected

On Thursday, the government’s primary human resources office announced a new regulation making it more difficult to fire thousands of federal employees, in an effort to thwart former President Donald Trump’s threats to fundamentally alter the workforce along ideological lines if he wins the presidency again in November.

The Office of Personnel Management standards will prohibit career civil servants from being categorized as political appointees or other at-will employees, who are more readily fired from their posts. It comes in response to “Schedule F,” an executive order issued by Trump in 2020 that tried to reclassify tens of thousands of the 2.2 million federal employees, so reducing their job security guarantees.

Schedule F was declared null and void when President Biden assumed office. However, if Trump revives it during his second administration, he could significantly expand the number of federal employees — currently around 4,000 — who are deemed political appointees and shift with each new president.

It’s unknown how many employees were affected by Schedule F. However, the National Treasury Employee Union obtained documents through freedom of information requests, indicating that federal workers such as office managers and human resources and cybersecurity specialists may have been subject to reclassification, implying that the scope of Trump’s order was broader than previously thought.

The new regulation might oppose a potential Schedule F order by defining the procedural procedures for reclassifying federal employees and stating that civil service protections gained by employees cannot be taken away regardless of job type. It further clarifies that policymaking classifications only apply to non-career political appointments and cannot be applied to career civil servants.

“It will now be much harder for any president to arbitrarily remove the nonpartisan professionals who staff our federal agencies just to make room for hand-picked partisan loyalists,” National Treasury Employees Union President Doreen Greenwald said in a statement.

According to analysts at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, the new rule does not prevent a second Trump administration from reclassifying government officials as Schedule F personnel. Nonetheless, the “Trump administration would need to go through an even more cumbersome regulatory process (and likely face court challenges) to redesignate employees as Schedule F rather than unilaterally doing so on Day 1,” according to a report released by the White House.

New rule poses a major obstacle for Trump's workforce overhaul if re-elected

Sharply divergent perspectives on the new regulation

Good government organizations, liberal think institutions and campaigners have applauded the rule. They saw strengthening federal worker rights as a primary priority, given that replacing existing government employees with new, more conservative options is a crucial component of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s roughly 1,000-page playbook known as “Project 2025.”

That proposal calls for scrutinizing and perhaps firing scores of federal employees, as well as recruiting conservative replacements, in order to eliminate what senior Republicans have long criticized as the “deep state” administrative bureaucracy.

Skye Perryman, president and CEO of Democracy Forward, which has led a coalition of nearly 30 advocacy organizations backing the rule, described it as “extraordinarily strong” and said it can effectively oppose the “highly resourced, anti-democratic groups” behind Project 2025.

“This is not a wonky issue, even though it may be billed that way at times,” Mr. Perryman said. “This is really foundational to how we can ensure that the government delivers for people and, for us, that’s what a democracy is about.”

The final rule, which is 237 pages long, is being published in the federal registry and will take effect next month. The Office of Personnel Management suggested the modifications in November, and then evaluated and reacted to over 4,000 public comments on them. Officials from some of the most prominent conservative organizations opposed the new rule, but almost two-thirds of the comments were positive.

If Trump is re-elected, his administration may direct the Office of Personnel Management to develop new rules. However, the procedure takes months and needs thorough explanations as to why additional restrictions would be beneficial, perhaps opening the door to legal challenges from opponents.

Rob Shriver, deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management, stated that the new regulation assures that federal employee protections “cannot be erased by a technical, HR process,” as “Schedule F attempted to do.”

“This rule is about making sure the American public can continue to count on federal workers to apply their skills and expertise in carrying out their jobs, no matter their personal political beliefs,” Shriver said in a telephone interview.

He pointed out that 85% of federal employees work outside of Washington and are “our friends, neighbors, and family members,” who are “dedicated to serving the American people, not political agendas.”

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