Why should the firing of a superintendent in Sarasota, Florida, bother federal employees everywhere? What does it have to do with the Schedule F classification created by President Trump, then rescinded by President Biden?
An editorial in Federal News Network recently offered some answers to these questions. First, even though President Biden dialed back the threat of Schedule F, lawmakers were unable to pass a bill that would kill it for good. Second, the true problems presented by Schedule F and similar efforts reach far beyond the employees who could face reclassification. The superintendent’s firing serves to illustrate this second point.
Schedule F isn’t truly and fully dead
As you may recall, Schedule F would have reclassified roughly 50,000 federal employees. The new classification would have exempted them from the protections they enjoy as non-exempt employees, including their protections from adverse disciplinary actions. Instead, they would have become at-will employees. Agencies could have hired and fired them “at will,” and the employees would have little or no recourse.
The stated goal of Schedule F and other, similar legislative efforts is to improve “accountability.” And the truth is that people seeking greater accountability have a strong argument. The law provides federal employees a great deal of protection from adverse actions based on factors other than merit. However, these protections also make it difficult for agencies to fire or discipline underperforming employees. They also make the process quite slow.
It’s only natural that people will want to adjust the balance. They’ll want to push against protections in favor of responsiveness. The question is if lawmakers are going about this the right way. Schedule F was a nuclear option. So, too, are the concepts presented by the Public Service Reform Act (PSRA), which members of the Freedom Caucus tried to advance. Until both sides feel better about the balance, we’re likely to see more efforts to push it in one direction or the other.
The federal government sets an example
The federal government is the nation’s largest employer, and it serves as a powerful example for businesses throughout the United States. The editorial’s author said this was one of his larger concerns.
Schedule F, the PSRA and similar efforts shift federal agencies away from merit. They make them more political. And the Sarasota School Board’s recent decision to fire its superintendent illustrates the dangers of a heavily politicized system.
While the Chair argued that the Board made its decision based on merit, the fact was the superintendent had just scored “highly effective” on his last performance review. Still, the School Board fired him a mere seven minutes after swearing in a new set of members. And the firing followed comments that politicians had made on social media. These included the remarks that the new School Board and Moms for Liberty would “claim the scalp of Sarasota County Superintendent.”
The superintendent’s firing makes it fairly clear that education is a political matter in Sarasota County. As Federal News Network notes, that means any future candidates will have to want to play politics as well as do their actual job. And decisions like this don’t just affect the superintendent. They shake down the tree. The author noted that teachers will have to wonder how political and toxic the district might be.
There’s no direct connection between Florida’s teachers and the protections that federal employees enjoy, but they don’t exist in different universes. The federal government sets an important example, and it can do so either for good or for ill.
What can federal employees do?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless when confronted by decisions you can’t control. However, it helps to focus on the things you can control. And when the conversation is about merit-based employment versus political appointment, you can stand up for your rights as a merit-based employee.
This means all the standard things like voting and educating others. However, it also means standing up and confronting injustice in the office. Whether you experience that injustice personally or merely witness it, you have ways to report it and help to prove the value of merit-based employment.
You can also make sure to give your best effort every day. That’s another way to help quiet the “poor performance” argument against merit-based protections.