January 24, 2021

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House Leadership Demands Accounting of Political Burrowing, Schedule F Activities

Leaders of nearly two dozen House committees demanded information from 61 federal agencies on any efforts to convert political appointees to career civil service positions as well as planned conversions of career employees to the controversial new Schedule F job classification ahead of President-elect Biden’s inauguration.

In a letter to the various agencies last week, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and each of the chairs of the other 19 permanent House committees said they fear a combination of appointees moving into permanent jobs—a practice commonly referred to as “burrowing”—and the implementation of President Trump’s plan to strip civil service protections from employees in “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating positions” could undermine the merit system principles that form the foundation of the federal civil service.

“Protecting the nonpartisan expertise of the career civil service is essential to the safety and security of the American people,” they wrote. “Federal law requires that personnel actions are carried out in such a way that the ‘selection and advancement’ of employees in the civil service are ‘determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge and skills, after fair and open competition’ rather than on the basis of ‘partisan political purposes.’ We are seeking a full accounting of political appointees who have already been hired into career positions or are being considered for such conversions.”

Officials with the Biden transition team, Democrats and good government groups have expressed fears that agencies could use Trump’s Schedule F order to more easily embed political appointees in the career civil service, since it also grants agency heads greater discretion in the federal hiring process. And although both the burrowing process and implementation of Schedule F require approval from the Office of Personnel Management, acting Director Michael Rigas has issued guidance suggesting that agencies would have wide latitude to reclassify their workforces as they see fit.

The committee chairs requested information on all efforts to implement Trump’s Schedule F order or to move political appointees into career positions, including a list of every employee impacted by the efforts. The first response is due Dec. 9, and agencies are expected to provide updates on a biweekly basis until Jan. 20.

Meanwhile, a group of 13 House Democrats, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., have continued to pressure appropriators to block the administration’s efforts to implement Schedule F altogether. In a letter last week to the leadership of the House and Senate appropriations committees, they asked that the next spending agreement include a provision barring federal funds from being used to establish the new job classification.

“This executive order, which the Trump administration is rushing to implement without adequate analysis just weeks before the president leaves office, could precipitate an exodus from the federal government, leaving federal agencies without deep institutional knowledge, expertise, experience, and the ability to develop and implement long-term policy strategies,” they wrote. “In addition, if the incoming Biden administration repeals the executive order in whole or in part, implementing it now would waste significant time and resources as a result of the unnecessary classification and reclassification of thousands of federal employees.”

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