WASHINGTON (CN) — A Trump appointee tasked with overseeing the body that handles salary concerns for federal employees abruptly resigned Monday citing a recent executive order from President Donald Trump that many critics believe will politicize and debase the civil service.
Ronald Sanders was chair of the Federal Salary Council until Monday morning when he tendered his resignation “effective immediately” to John McEntee, the director for the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office.
The Federal Salary Council, which Sanders chaired, offers recommendations to the executive branch, the U.S. Labor Department and other federal agencies on rates of pay and salary for federal employees. All nine members of the council are appointed by the president. Sanders, a longtime Republican, was appointed by Trump in 2017.
He departs that role just days after Trump proposed a new classification system for civil service employees, including those involved with confidential policy development.
Citing “poor performance” by federal workers, the executive order unveils a new classification system under which some federal workers — the administration was not clear on precisely how many — would lose protections currently available to most government employees. Those lost protections include the right to obtain union representation or the right to pursue recourse if fired.
“On its surface, the President’s Executive Order purports to serve a legitimate and laudable purpose … that is, to hold career Federal employees ‘more accountable’ for their performance,” the exiting chairman wrote. “That is something that I have spent most of my professional life — almost four decades in Federal service (over 20 as a member of the Senior Executive Service) — trying to do.”
Sanders served as the associate director of national intelligence for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence from 2005 to 2010 and, prior to that, was the associate director for human resources at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
He has served in various management and director roles at the IRS and the Department of Defense, too, and was, for nearly a decade, the vice president of renowned consulting company, Booz Allen Hamilton.
Sanders also served as director and clinical professor at the University of South Florida’s School of Public Affairs where he oversaw and taught public management courses. Since this June, he has served as director for the university’s center for cybersecurity.
With his wealth of experience and Trump’s order guiding him, Sanders explained that his decision to resign was all but a foregone conclusion.
“It is clear that its stated purpose notwithstanding, the Executive Order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process,” he wrote. “I simply cannot be part of an Administration that seeks to do so…to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career Federal employees are legally and duty- bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law…not to be loyal to a particular President or Administration.”
For Sanders, Trump’s order amounted to a “litmus test” for thousands of career civil servants.
“And that is something I cannot be a part of,” he wrote.
Appearing to anticipate at least some backlash from the administration, Sanders made a point to note in his resignation that, to some, “requiring loyalty” may seem appropriate.
“After all, shouldn’t all employees do what the boss and his lieutenants tell them to do? I say no, at least not when it comes to career civil servants. The only ‘boss’ that they serve is the public, and the laws that their elected representatives enact…whether this or any President likes it or not,” Sanders wrote (emphasis in original). “And if a President doesn’t like it, he can propose that the Congress change the law. That is the way our Constitution is supposed to work, and no President should be able to remove career civil servants whose only sin is that they may speak such a truth to him.”
The executive order applies to current and future employees who shape policy. It gives federal agencies 90 days to conduct a review and determine who meets the classification change requirements. That criteria is self-defined and also puts the deadline right at the inauguration of the next president in January.
Once the 90-day assessment period is up, under the order, final review must be completed within four months.
Should Trump win the election this year and the order goes into full effect, it would strengthen his ability or that of his cabinet heads to hire and fire employees at will and with little to no transparency.
For example, under the new classifications proposed order, a career civil employee and shaper of public policy like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, could be fired by Trump — and totally lose the right to appeal his firing.
The nation’s largest union of government workers known as the American Federation of Government Employees has slammed the order, arguing that it drastically undercuts federal workers and solidifies cronyism throughout all levels of government. The union represents more than 700,000 government workers both domestic and abroad. There are roughly 2.1 million workers in the federal workforce, according to Office of Personnel Management data.
The White House did not return request for comment Monday.