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Should agencies be able to fire federal workers at will?

On Behalf of | Jul 29, 2022 | Firm News

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government counts more than 2.1 civilian employees. That number makes the federal government the nation’s largest employer. Some would even argue the federal government employs far too many.

As a result, there have been some big stories recently that could have serious repercussion for federal workers. Most Americans agree that the federal government needs an overhaul, but it’s not clear that the ideas floating around are the way to go.

The threat of Schedule F

Reports from Axios and other news sources have focused on the previous administration’s desire to reclassify a wide swath of federal employees. Shortly before he departed office, former President Trump signed an executive order that established a new classification category for roughly 50,000 federal employees.

This new Schedule F classification would move these employees from non-exempt to exempt. This means they would lose many of the protections afforded to non-exempt employees. Perhaps most importantly, they would lose their procedural rights to appeal any discipline through the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). Their bosses and agencies could fire them at will.

The move to reclassify employees ended under the current administration. President Biden rescinded the order shortly after taking office. However, reporters say former President Trump could reinstate the executive order if he returns to power.

The threat of new legislation

Schedule F is not the only action threatening the stability of the federal workforce. Five lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would cut deep. As the Government Executive reports, if the bill becomes law, it would introduce measures far more serious than Schedule F. It would:

  • Turn all federal employees into at-will employees
  • Abolish the MSPB and all the disciplinary hearings it oversees
  • Shorten the period in which employees can challenge disciplinary proposals to 14 days
  • Allow agency heads to direct their employees’ challenges and hearings to nearly anyone
  • Eliminate further appeals for nearly all employees
  • Strip whistleblowers of many of their protections, forcing them to take their appeals directly to U.S. Federal Court

The Government Executive noted the bill has approximately zero chance of becoming law at this point. However, it does signal the sort of threats federal employees may face when the political winds shift, and a new party takes power.

Would these changes benefit the government or nation?

Either of the proposed changes would offer agencies and top executives the means to shrink the federal workforce. This is an important consideration while most of the United States feels the government needs significant changes.

However, it’s unclear—and even doubtful—that changes as drastic as these would lead to healthy reductions. People tend to perform better when they feel appreciated and protected. This is as true for federal employees as for anyone. No one wants to feel that they’re simply “fat” that needs to be “trimmed.”

The federal government has spent more than 100 years trying to find ways to protect employees’ rights. The MSPB plays a key role. Appeals help keep agencies honest. It’s possible—but in no way certain—that gutting those parts of the federal government could make it more efficient. On the other hand, it’s 100 percent clear such changes would lead to a wildly different type of workplace.


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