‘Bureaucrats need to be fireable’: Republican lawmakers propose stripping US federal officials of employment protections

By on 01/08/2022 | Updated on 01/08/2022
US representative Chip Roy takes the podium.
"Former president Trump is absolutely right about this: there needs to be a reckoning, and bureaucrats actually need to be fireable,” representative Chip Roy said. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

A group of US lawmakers from the Republican Party have introduced a bill that would make it easier for the president to remove a host of nonpartisan officials from their roles, in what one called a “reckoning” for feds.

The legislation, which has been proposed by five Republican representatives, would dampen whistleblower activity and seek to abolish the Merit Systems Protection Board, which protects the federal government against political practices, as well as reducing employment protections.

The bill is unlikely to pass the current Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, but comes ahead of mid-term elections in November that could see the Republicans take back control of the lower chamber. It also has been published just days after it emerged that former president Donald Trump – who took steps to control the bureaucracy and fired several high-profile officials during his time in office – was overseeing plans to purge tens of thousands of career civil servants should he be re-elected in 2024.

Chip Roy, a Texan representative who is one of the five behind the bill, said that “most career civil servants do their jobs faithfully day in and day out”, but claimed “there are still too many federal employees actively undermining America through their blatant contempt for our nation, the rule of law, and the American people”.

He added: “That is because policies meant to insulate the government from politics have instead created a dense web of red tape that rewards laziness and noncompliance and enables hostile partisans to entrench themselves within federal agencies. Former President Trump is absolutely right about this: there needs to be a reckoning, and bureaucrats actually need to be fireable.”

Read more: Trump moves to extend hire-and-fire powers over civil service

The bill would mean that the only way officials who had been dismissed could appeal the decision would be to raise it with the manager who had fired them, except in cases of alleged discrimination, which would continue to be referred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Though it has virtually no chance of passing through the Democrat-controlled Congress, the draft legislation is the latest attempt by Republicans to rewrite the rules of civil service employment. Others include plans to revive reforms introduced when Trump was president, known as Schedule F, to move federal workers in policy-orientated roles to a new employment category under which the usual civil service protections would not apply.

This was intended to allow the administration to rid federal government of anyone thought to be working against its agenda. Trump signed the associated executive order in October 2020 ahead of the US federal election but it was thwarted after Joe Biden took office early the following year. Biden said at the time that it “undermined the foundations of the civil service and its merit system principle”.

Read more: Trump aides plan federal staff purge in event of 2024 re-election

Don Kettl, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, warned that the draft legislation represented part of “an effort to gear up a major assault on the federal employment system”.

He told Government Executive (GovExec). “Much of the debate has largely been about if Trump is re-elected, but what this makes clear is the efforts to try to change the civil service aren’t just Trump necessarily, and if Republicans take control of Congress following the midterms, this may very well go from idea to specific action.”

Protection for whistleblowers – or an attack?  

Roy said the bill preserves protections against discrimination and whistleblower retaliation. but making federal officials at-will employees – the US employment terms that allow an employer to dismiss an employee for any reason and without warning provided the reason is not illegal – would “claw back the inordinate protections some federal employees grossly abuse”.

Read more: Trump attacks raise concern about whistleblower protections

However, Kettl told GovExec the bill would do the opposite. Under it, the US Office of Special Counsel, which investigates retaliation against whistleblowers, would have just 14 days to make recommendations on whether action against a whistleblower constituted reprisal. In addition, were a court to find a whilstleblower’s appeal to be “in bad faith or frivolous”, they would lose 25% of their federal employee pension payments.

“This dramatically limits the amount of whistleblowing activity that’s possible,” Kettl said. “Going to court is extremely expensive and time consuming. In addition, it creates a disincentive to blow the whistle because your retirement benefits could be reduced. When you put it together, it’s a very big deal. It would dramatically change the incentives for individuals who are being dismissed because of whistleblowing.”

At a rally in South Carolina earlier this year, Trump said that if re-elected, he would implement a “big and bold” plan to reform government, adding that what he termed ‘the deep state’ “must and will be brought to heel”. US news site Axios reported last month that former Trump aides, partisan think tanks and other organisations had drawn up a hit-list of 50,000 officials that a future |Republican administration may seek to remove.

Read more: Trump fires inspector general who alerted Congress to Ukraine scandal

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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