New legislation filed in the Senate today would prevent any future attempts to undertake wholesale reclassifications of Federal civil servants and replace them with political appointees without the consent of Congress.

The Preventing a Patronage System Act – introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Mark Warner, D-Va., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Alex Padilla, D-Calif. – aims to head off the reclassification of Federal employees “outside of merit system principles,” unless Congress approves such a move.

The Senate bill lines up with the aims of legislation of the same name offered by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and approved by the House Oversight and Reform Committee last year. That bill would block any future moves to assign Federal workers to newly created “excepted” service schedules. The legislation says that no Federal position in the “competitive service” may be excepted from that service unless it is placed in existing Schedules A through E.

The House legislation responds to an executive order issued by President Trump in October 2020 that created a new excepted service – Schedule F – for Federal employees deemed to be in policy-making positions. Employees classified under Schedule F would be easier to hire and fire.

The executive order was canceled by President Biden soon after he took office in January 2021.

Backers of the bill introduced in the Senate today said their legislation 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,” commented Sen. Kaine. “This legislation would put commonsense safeguards in place to protect the merit-based hiring system for our Federal workforce,” he said.

“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,” added Sen. Warner.

“Workplace protections for Federal workers exist for a reason: so any one administration cannot fire career employees and install their own political appointees,” said Sen. 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.”

According to the senators sponsoring the bill, current law allows presidents to make about 4,000 political appointments, and about 1,200 of those are subject to Senate confirmation.  The Schedule F order by the Trump administration would have increased the number of political appointments to about 50,000, they said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.