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Revived Congressional rule sends chill through federal ranks

Some supporters call it a minor adjustment that simply restores constitutional powers of the purse Congress. Other supporters say it could prove to be a positive step toward curbing rising federal bureaucracy. Opponents warn it threatens efforts to protect the rights of federal workers against the political whims of elected officials.

What we are talking about is the revival of the Holman Rule. You may never have heard of it. First instituted 140 years ago, the tool allows any member of Congress to propose legislative action to target a particular federal agency, or even a specific federal worker, with funding cuts.

Members of the House, where Republicans hold the majority, brought the Holman Rule back into play this week as part of the package of rules it adopted for the current session of Congress.

While such a provision might come as a surprise to many, some proponents and pundits say it shouldn't. They note that President-elect Donald Trump made freezing federal hiring a mainstay of his winning campaign last fall. Other priorities on the incoming administration's list call for conducting agency reviews to cut government bloating and eliminating of rules that are deemed wasteful or unnecessary.

No one can predict if any lawmaker will use the Holman Rule. However, opponents and leaders of federal worker unions say such action has to be considered possible. And, as at least one journalist notes, such action would have the force of law and purportedly supersede protections now guaranteed by federal employment laws.

For now, workers can take comfort knowing they are protected by due process and that those facing retaliatory action can find help from experienced legal counsel.

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