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Trump Shakes Up Classification for Federal Workers

Citing concern over poor performance by federal employees, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could strip thousands of federal workers of civil service protections, making it easier to fire them or prevent them from joining unions.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Citing concern over poor performance by federal employees, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that could strip thousands of federal workers of civil service protections, making it easier to fire them or prevent them from joining unions.  

The order was issued Wednesday and creates a new classification for most federal employees. Currently, such employees are largely categorized under the competitive service classification or as excepted service. 

Competitive service traditionally means that a federal worker has gone through a rigorous review and hiring process that is conducted by the Office of Personnel Management, or OPM. A competitive service employee can move freely from one federal position to another without being subjected to additional reviews. Employees also advance based on congressionally set standards and rules around merits.

Excepted service employees, on the other hand, are not subjected to OPM review. Instead, these workers are hired based on individual agency criteria and the agency’s self-designated standards of merit. Typically, excepted service employees are administrative law judges or attorneys and on occasion, members of the FBI or CIA.

Under Trump’s order, competitive service employees, specifically those who are engaged in confidential and policymaking or policy-advocating positions, will be moved to the excepted service category.

Agency heads are instructed to review employee statuses and make those determinations on their own accord. These employees would then be categorized under the order’s newly formed “Schedule F” section of the excepted service.

The deadline set for agencies to comply with the first round of the review process is just 90 days, meaning the order would be in effect at the presidential inauguration ceremony in January. The final review process is expected to be completed four months after that date.

The classification change means that thousands of federal employees could lose rights previously afforded to them, including the right to obtain union representation and protections against being fired. 

The American Federation of Government Employees or AFGE, said in a statement Thursday that the executive order seriously undermines the apolitical integrity of the career civil service sector.

“The president has doubled down on his effort to politicize and corrupt the professional service. This executive order strips due process rights and protections from perhaps hundreds of thousands of federal employees and will enable political appointees and other officials to hire and fire these workers at will,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley.

It has taken years to expand and strengthen the civil service, Kelley noted, with Congress creating rules that protect federal workers from “arbitrary hiring and firing decisions that are not based on job performance but on political affiliation, personal loyalty tests and outright discrimination.”

Wednesday’s order puts those rules to the wayside for a huge swath of the federal workforce, he added.

But the White House insists that current federal law makes it prohibitively difficult to remove “poorly performing” employees.

“Career employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy‑making, and policy-advocating positions wield significant influence over government operations and effectiveness. Agencies need the flexibility to expeditiously remove poorly performing employees from these positions without facing extensive delays or litigation,” the executive order states.

If an agency head who shapes public policy – like the director of the Centers for Disease Control, for example – is classified as Schedule F excepted service, it becomes much easier to target him or her for removal if policies they are advocating for rub the White House the wrong way.

Congressman Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who represents a huge number of federal employees in his district just outside of Washington, blasted the directive on Thursday.

“This executive order is yet another attack on federal employees that addresses absolutely none of the issues that can hinder effective federal recruitment and hiring. It’s a cheap ploy to let the Trump administration replace talent and acumen with fealty and self-dealing,” Connolly said.

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