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Kaine Leads Introduction of Legislation to Protect Merit-Based Federal Workforce System, Federal Workers’ Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) led Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) in introducing the Preventing a Patronage System Act, legislation that would prevent any position in the federal civil service from being reclassified outside of merit system principles without the express consent of Congress. This bill would secure the civil service and protect tens of thousands of federal employees from losing job protections and due process rights.  

“Our civil service plays an invaluable role in everything from our national security to the administration of Social Security benefits, and it’s in Americans’ best interest that those positions be filled with the most qualified applicants,” said Kaine. “This legislation would put commonsense safeguards in place to protect the merit-based hiring system for our federal workforce, and I urge all of my colleagues to join us in supporting it.”

“Civil servants are our government’s greatest asset. These dedicated individuals are subject-matter experts who work in a non-partisan way to power our nation and carry out fundamental functions of government,” said Warner. “This legislation will safeguard the integrity of our government by ensuring that a President cannot act unilaterally to politicize key public service roles or strip civil servants of critical rights and protections.”

“Workplace protections for federal workers exist for a reason: so any one administration cannot fire career employees and install their own political appointees,” said Feinstein. “Career federal workers are committed to public service and serving the greater good, and they fulfill a range of critical roles from protecting national security to bolstering our nation’s pandemic response to safeguarding our communities. These career federal employees must be protected from politics so they can do their jobs, and that’s what our bill would accomplish.”

“America’s civil service is strengthened by our rigorous, merit-based standards,” said Padilla. “Federal civilian workers are devoted public servants that touch nearly every aspect of American life, from research to national security and beyond. Partisan politics must not play a role in the selection of our nation’s career federal workforce and we must work to maintain the integrity of our merit-based hiring system.”

“Our career, non-partisan public sector workforce is one of our nation’s greatest assets. The last thing we need is for a president to fire dedicated and experienced public servants and replace them with sycophants and grifters without the skills to carry out the functions of government within the rule of law,” said Cardin. “From health care to national security, education to public safety, nearly every sector of American society will suffer greatly if a future president is given the latitude to blindly wipe away the professional expertise of our nation’s civil servants.”

“Our federal civilian workforce provides Americans with crucial services every day,” said Van Hollen. “And keeping partisan politics out of our civil service is crucial to upholding its integrity and maintaining an efficient and effective federal government. This common-sense legislation will ensure the integrity of our merit-based civil service system and safeguard it from being used as a political punching bag.”

The federal workforce is comprised of roughly 2 million federal employees hired on the basis of their acumen, and they work each day for the American people — serving in myriad capacities to improve this nation and America’s posture abroad.  These impartial civil servants research vaccines, help families in the wake of hurricanes and deadly fires, and inspect our food to ensure it is free of disease.

On October 21, 2020, President Trump signed Executive Order 13957 creating Schedule F in the excepted government service. The excepted government service is any federal or civil service positions that are not in the competitive service or the Senior Executive Service. This executive order, had it not been repealed by President Biden in January 2021, would have required agency heads to reclassify “policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” positions to a newly created Schedule F category of federal employees that would remove their due process rights and civil service protections. This would have undermined the merit system principles of our federal workforce, as it would have made it easier for any administration to hire political loyalists and fire qualified experts. According to press reports, the Office of Management and Budget under Trump planned to reclassify 88% of its workforce under Schedule F. Trump reportedly plans to reinstate Schedule F immediately if reelected to the presidency, which would allow him to fire up to 50,000 federal workers and replace them with political hires. Currently, new presidents can make about 4,000 political appointments, approximately 1,200 of which must be confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s move could increase the number of political appointments from 4,000 to approximately 50,000.

The Preventing a Patronage System Act would prevent any position in the competitive service from being reclassified to Schedule F pursuant to President Trump’s Executive Order signed on October 21, 2020. This would prevent future administrations from creating new employee classifications in order to hire more political loyalists and fire experts.

The legislation is endorsed by American Federation of Government Employees, National Treasury Employees Union, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Senior Executives Association, National Federation of Federal Employees, Professional Managers Association, American Society for Public Administration, International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, National Weather Service Employees Organization, Patent Office Professional Association, United Power Trades Organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Civic Leadership Education and Research Initiative, Project Blueprint, FAA Managers Association, National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.

Full text of the legislation is available here.