The Trump administration’s Program F executive order aimed at making it easier to hire and fire career civil servants in political roles, but sparked strong backlash. Critics argued it would lead to partisanship wash away nonpartisan experts, and the Biden administration is now answering effectively prohibiting similar attempts in the future. However, the hysteria over Schedule F is overblown. It stems from a widely believed myth that federal policymaking is driven by apolitical expertise. Once this myth is dispelled, the many benefits of Program F and similar reforms come to light.
In October 2020, former President Trump signed an executive order creating a new employment category called “Schedule F” for federal government employees. The order would have moved tens of thousands of career civil servants into a new category without long-term protections against firing without cause.
The order applied to employees in policy, public relations, certain legal roles and others seats “of a confidential, decisive, policy-making or advocacy nature”. As in the private sector, workers in the new Schedule F category could be fired with little or no warning.
Critics, such as the Biden White House, is characterized Schedule F as an attempt to “drill down politicians appointed to the civil service”. They worried that it would effectively turn civil servants into political appointees who change with each administration. Meanwhile, supporters said it would make the federal workforce more efficient and responsive to the administration’s priorities.
This issue is especially important to Republicans, who worry that a “deep state” is actively undermining their agenda once they gain power. The overwhelming majority of political donations from federal workers go to Democrats, and the obvious tries The undermining of Trump’s agenda while president has led many to worry that the current pool of federal workers is incapable of fulfilling their duties in good faith.
Trump’s executive order was canceled by Biden shortly after taking office in 2021, so Schedule F was never implemented. However, Trump is now revival the campaign idea and other Republican candidates support Also, raising the possibility that Program F will return in some form.
Everyone would like to think that dispassionate experts seek out the public in federal regulatory agencies, but the reality is that expertise is more often used as a tool to advance a partisan agenda. Regulators often make decisions based on ideology rather than thoughtful analysis — meanwhile, public policy suffers as a result.
For example, only regulatory bodies rarely conduct a thorough or full cost-benefit analysis of their regulations, despite longstanding requirements to analyze their policies using this method. Even when they do make efforts, the process tends to be manipulated to reach unclear conclusions.
In fact, the Biden administration recently changed the regulatory cost-benefit Guidelines to Exaggerate benefits while ignoring costs, making it easier for government analysts to tip the scales in favor of regulatory proposals. The guidance was criticized for not adhering to the best available science on a letter signed by fifteen past presidents of the Society for Benefit-Cost Analysis. Despite the criticism, the administration ignored the advice, as well as the recommendations of many peer reviewersand proceed with the guidance.
Some conservatives wrangle Program F is dangerous and risks creating a patronage system as it existed in the 19thu century. Other right-wing commentators I suggest Giving public officials more discretion, the opposite of accountability measures like Schedule F. They see empowering regulators as a way to speed up some aspects of governance that are slow, such as permitting infrastructure or energy projects.
In other words, there is an alignment of interests between conservatives who want to allow deregulation and progressives who want a faster transition to renewables. Giving regulators free reign could lead to some desired outcomes.
However, these criticisms of Annex F are naive. Arguably, giving people a job for life and enabling them to thwart the wishes of a president-elect is as corrupt as any spoils system. Moreover, the federal bureaucracy is already highly politicized. Even the most supposedly “scientific” aspects of policymaking, such as cost-benefit analysis, are routinely tainted by politics. Given the extent of the problem, there is little risk that things will get worse.
Giving left-wing federal labor even more discretion to approve permitting projects will also prove a long-term disaster for conservatives, even if it pays some dividends in the short term. Progressives in Washington are like a stopped clock. Sure, they occasionally exercise sound judgment, but society can hardly expect that on a regular basis. Any Faustian bargain that cedes power to regulators for short-term gains will surely lead to abuse of power down the road.
This is ultimately why process reforms like Schedule F must be part of any effort to modernize the federal workforce. This is not to say that Plan F is the most ideal reform. Other options are available. Term limits for bureaucrats are much more reasonable than those for elected officials, who are at least accountable to the voters. (Again, some worry about the loss of expertise, but that’s not a concern when so little expertise is used in the first place.) Provisions for federal employees, which make tenure temporary and subject to renewal, would also instill some accountability.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Plan F. Its critics mistakenly assume that nonpartisan politics of excellence guides, but that glosses over the deep politicization that lies within the current system. Efforts to streamline hiring and firing are steps toward a more responsive government. Conservatives who oppose these reforms in hopes of currying favor with progressives are making a dangerous political miscalculation. They would be better off supporting overdue process reforms like Schedule F.