Washington D.C. – NTEU-endorsed legislation to protect our nation’s merit-based civil service has passed the House and been introduced in the Senate, an important escalation in the fight to keep the federal workforce professional and nonpolitical.
The Preventing a Patronage System Act would prohibit any new classification of federal employees in a way that allows career public servants to be replaced with political appointees.
“Our merit-based system is the envy of the world precisely because it ensures the federal government is staffed with people who were hired based on their professional qualifications, not their political ideology,” said NTEU National President Tony Reardon. “The Preventing a Patronage System Act would make sure we don’t go backward to the corrupt spoils system of the 19th century.”
The flurry of legislative activity is in response to reports that organizations hostile to a non-partisan civil service are developing plans that the next GOP administration could use to create a new classification of federal workers who can be hired and fired at will, and then filling it with party loyalists. Former President Trump attempted it near the end of his term with an executive order creating Schedule F, which President Biden revoked immediately after he took office in January 2021.
“So-called Schedule F would be the demise of our civil service and a threat to the fair and impartial delivery of government services and regulation,” Reardon said. “Such patronage, for example, could mean federal scientists will be expected to skew the analysis of research results to fit a policy narrative, with the threat of being fired hanging over their heads. This cannot happen without damaging Americans’ faith in the entire system.”
Frontline federal employees in the competitive service swear an oath to the Constitution and are dedicated to the public service mission of their agencies, regardless of which party controls the White House. They are carrying out duties related to national security, public health, economic stability and a whole host of services that benefit the country.
“It is simply not true that a president needs to replace tens of thousands of career federal employees in order to implement their vision for our country. Presidents pursue their legal policy goals through the 4,000 political appointees they are already allowed to place throughout federal agencies,” Reardon said. “Frontline federal employees, properly shielded from political whims by civil service laws, do their jobs with expertise based on their professional training in law and policy.”
The House version of Preventing a Patronage System Act, sponsored by Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, was included in the defense policy bill that passed the House in July with bipartisan support. In the Senate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced a companion bill this week, along with other cosponsors. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, also added a similar provision to a government funding bill for fiscal year 2023.
NTEU has a strong record of fighting to protect the civil service, including a lawsuit to block the 2020 Schedule F order.
“NTEU will gladly beat a path to the courthouse again if there is a second attempt to unlawfully politicize the federal workforce,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents about 150,000 employees in 34 federal agencies and offices.