House chairs seek 'full accounting' of Schedule F conversions
- By Natalie Alms
- Nov 30, 2020
A group of over 20 chairs of House committees and subcommittees are requesting a "full accounting" both of any burrowing in of political appointees into the civil service and the execution of Schedule F, a new category of federal employee made up of positions centered on policy work that aren't subject to civil service protections or collective bargaining rights.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, led the signatories of the Nov. 25 letter, which was sent to 61 federal agencies. Agencies are facing a Jan. 19 deadline to submit an initial inventory of positions to be converted to Schedule F to the Office of Personnel Management until January 19, 2021, but some departments are ahead of schedule. The Office of Management and Budget has indicated that 88% of its positions are eligible for conversion into Schedule F jobs.
There are concerns that the executive order could accelerate non-competitive hiring into the new schedule as the Trump administration is on its way out, leaving the incoming administration with a bureaucracy tinted by former political appointees from the last presidency.
This process, known as "burrowing in," can happen before presidential transitions as political appointees are placed inside the civil service. Specifically, Democrats on the Hill have pointed to the potential for Schedule C positions, a category of political appointees exempted from the competitive service, to be converted into Schedule F positions.
OPM reviews and approves the conversion of political appointees into a civil service positions, said James Eisenmann, a partner at Alden Law Group who specializes in federal employee issues. However, Schedule F blurs the lines demarcating the apolitical civil service from pure political appointees, he said.
"What [Schedule F is] potentially doing is really creating this kind of political appointment without calling it a political appointment," Eisenmann said.
The representatives requested a detailed list of any former political appointees since January 2017 who now hold a permanent competitive position, a non-political excepted service position or a job in the Senior Executive Service.
The letter also addressed concerns about Schedule F's effects on career civil servants. Under the October executive order, Schedule F employees would be essentially at-will and ineligible for most civil service protections. Lawmakers, federal employee groups and good governance groups have raised alarms about the potential for swaths of civil servants to be fired in the closing days of the Trump administration.
The lawmakers asked for information about competitive service and excepted service positions that have been flagged for conversion to the new personnel category or placed into it.
They included requests for details about any individuals whose positions have been converted to Schedule F, such as specifics about any fired after their position was converted, the title of their Schedule F position and justification for the conversion or placement into the new personnel schedule.
The chairs set a deadline of Dec. 9 for agencies to provide an initial response to the Committee on Oversight and Reform and to the committee that has jurisdiction for each respective agency. They also requested biweekly updates up until the inauguration.
Democrats on the Hill have been pursuing action to block the implementation of the executive order, including attempts to use the appropriations process to block the use of funds
for the order's implementation. The current continuing resolution to fund the federal government expires Dec. 11.
Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.