Here is Why it is Important for Congress to Act to Stop Schedule F Now

Apparently a lot of people on Capitol Hill think preventing Schedule F from being implemented is not that important. After all, if President Donald Trump could create Schedule F with the stroke of a Sharpie, President-elect Joe Biden can end it the same way after his inauguration. Right? It is not that simple. Here are a few examples of the problems that Schedule F could create that are not easily fixed.

Political appointees who are burrowed in via Schedule F. Burrowing in happens in most Administrations, but Schedule F creates the opportunity for the most egregious burrowing in that we have ever seen. Hundreds of political appointees could be moved into jobs that are covered by Schedule F. Rather than packing up and leaving on January 20, 2021, they will be sitting in agencies in permanent jobs. Easy to fix, right? Just do away with Schedule F. The problem with that is that they will still have jobs and it is likely that firing all of them will result in complaints to the Office of Special Counsel that they are being terminated due to their political affiliation, making it a Prohibited Personnel Practice. The fired employees can also go to court, hoping to get an injunction to stop their removal. What happens if they get a judge to rule that the President has the power to remove anyone in the executive branch and that applies to these folks. Is that a win? No — it opens the door to a dramatic expansion of Executive power and potentially to elimination of protections for career civil servants. The risk is too great to allow it to happen.

Career employees who are moved to Schedule F and then fired. Press reports that the Office of Management and Budget has identified 88 percent of its workforce for movement to Schedule F should be alarming. What happens if the Trump Administration follows through with that move and then fires a large number of the employees. OMB would not be able to function without those career employees. Can then President Biden reverse it? Sure. But the employees will have been processed out of the system. That triggers things like lump-sum payments of annual leave. For some employees, it will cause them to elect to retire. Can you repay a lump-sum leave payment? Yes. Is it easy? No. Lump-sum payment have taxes withheld. Employees have to repay everything, and some may not have the cash on hand to do that, because the IRS will have a big chunk of their money. Can they un-retire? No. Once they retire they are out of government and would have to be rehired as reemployed annuitants. They will also no longer have access to agency systems, and they will have surrendered their agency badges. All of them would have to go through he process of having those reissued. After having been jerked around for purely political reasons, some are likely to say to hell with it and not come back. It will be disruptive, costly, and serve no purpose that serves the American people.

New employees who are hired under Schedule F. If anyone is hired under Schedule F it is likely their jobs will go away. Much like the first group, they are likely to file complaints or lawsuits. They may win. Even if they do not, the government will spend time and money to defend itself.

What happens if converted political appointees or new Schedule F hires win their complaints or lawsuits? They could get backpay and be reinstated to the government. They may end up in jobs that the Biden Administration would prefer to have filled with their own appointees. And they may have a group of people who believe their role is to undermine the policy objectives of the Administration. That is exactly the opposite of what a career civil service is supposed to do. Civil servants serve the American people. They take an oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States. They carry out policies they do not agree with, as long as those policies are legal.

Congress can stop this incredibly disruptive process in its tracks. Doing so will ensure the government is not dealing with cleaning up the mess, spending taxpayer dollars to go to court, disrupting the lives hundreds or thousands of federal workers, and interfering with the operations of the government when we are in the middle of the worst public health crisis in more than a century. One sentence in the continuing resolution (CR) that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year will stop it. For Democrats, it should be an easy call. For Republicans, it should also be an easy call. Poisoning the well is never good, and the fact that it can eventually be fixed is no reason to let it happen.


Is Government Really That Unpopular? The Truth is Complicated….

There was an interesting story on on August 16, 2016 regarding a new Gallup poll that showed that the US government is the least popular of any major industry in the US. The poll listed the restaurant and computer industries as the most popular, with 66% total positive views. The restaurant industry also had the lowest negatives at 7%, with the computer industry slightly higher at 13% negative. The US government came in last on positive ratings – tied with the pharmaceutical industry at 28% positive. The three largest percentages of negative ratings were the government at 55%, pharmaceuticals at 51% and the healthcare industry at 54%.

Those numbers are not a great showing for the US government, but do they really tell the whole story? Of course not. Let’s start with the specious comparison of the United States government to the restaurant, computer or any other industry. Does Burger King withhold money from your paycheck? No. Does Apple? No. No industry in this poll has the kind of power over the everyday lives of Americans that the government exercises. No industry has a responsibility to defend the US, the promote its economy, to pass and enforce laws, or anything else. For the most part, the comparison is meaningless and serves no useful purpose.

Pew Agencies-1
Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government, Pew Research Center, Washington, DC (2015)

The other problem with the poll is that it ignores the fact that the government is a massive entity with many component parts. When we look at those parts we find widely differing views about it. For example, an excellent Pew Research Center study in 2015 showed a high degree of negativity about government, but also areas where government was doing very well. Pew, a respected nonpartisan, nonprofit “Fact Tank,” said “just 19% say they can trust the government always or most of the time, among the lowest levels in the past half-century. Only 20% would describe government programs as being well-run. And elected officials are held in such low regard that 55% of the public says “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems.” They also found that 74% said political leaders put their own interests ahead of those of the people.

Those numbers seem to align with the Gallup findings, but Pew dug much deeper and found that the story is far more complex than some click-worthy top line numbers might indicate. Yes – Americans have some very negative views of their government, but they also believe government must play a major role in our society. They want the government to keep us safe from terror, respond to natural disasters, manage immigration, strengthen the economy, and perform many other vital tasks.

In addition to believing the federal government must perform those tasks, they also gave high marks for performance in many of them. More than 70% believe government is doing a good or somewhat good job on responding to natural disasters, ensuring safe food and medicine, and setting workplace standards. High numbers also approved of government’s performance in protecting the environment, ensuring access to quality education, and ensuring basic income for senior citizens.

Pew also asked about specific agencies and found 84% had a favorable view of the Postal Service, the National Park Service had a 75% favorable rating, and the Centers for Disease Control and NASA came in at 71% and 70%, respectively. In fact, agencies representing the vast majority of the government came in at better than 50% approval.

Those numbers and the agencies they represent do not sound like an organization that should be compared to a restaurant or a computer manufacturer or service.

Pew also looked at views of elected officials and found they were not particularly popular. They were viewed as less honest and more selfish than typical americans or business leaders. Congress had a meager 27% favorable rating. The political parties do not fare much better, with the Democrats at 45% and the Republicans at 32%.

The Pew report has much more data and I highly recommend reading it if you want to know a lot more about how government and its many components are viewed. The data is fascinating and tells a complex story.