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A tangible thing you can do today to fight Trump's takeover of the federal government
Write a comment on a rule that will neuter Schedule F
If you been paying attention for the last few weeks there has been a string of articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Axios about how Trump has learned from his first term, and will use political appointees, lawyers in government, and career civil servants towards authoritarian ends.
Are there days when it seems like you can’t do anything? Well, today is not one of those days.
The US Office of Personnel Management has issued a rule to neuter Schedule F, Trump’s executive order that would allow him to convert career officials into political appointees, meaning he can force them to choose between being fired and serving an authoritarian agenda. This is a very big deal. Authoritarians consolidate power by removing the independence of the bureaucracy.
The proposed rule is a good one. As with any rule, the public can comment on it. You can comment on it.
This is my ask of you today: Take the time you would have spent complaining about politics online, and use it to write a comment supporting the proposed OPM rule and opposing Schedule F. You can do it in 5 minutes. Deadline is November 17th!
Does this sound daunting? Probably. But its not. Let me break it down.
You can enter a comment here. No log in. You can enter text, or upload a document. You don’t need to read the rule or be an expert. Schedule F (politicization) is bad and the rule (protecting nonpartisan civil servants) is good.
If you want more detail about Schedule F, here is a short explainer. You can also read my comment on the rule below.
Public comment matters. Bureaucrats really do read and pay attention to comments when revising rules. Having in-depth comments is great, but the sheer volume of responses, and what those responses say, also matters. It matters that OPM can say that most of the comments supported their rule to protect against politicization.
As I write this, only 50 people have posted comments for a potentially huge public policy. If you think you can’t do it, please take a look at four random comments I pulled out, all supporting Trump reimposing Schedule F. These guys took five minutes to write this drivel because they know it matters. They turned up. Will you?
The NY Times wrote about this rule if you want more information about what will happen next. Ultimately, Trump could overturn the rule. But it would delay him by months. In the meantime, this would allow legal challenges, and stop him from imposing an authoritarian regime on Day 1. And the courts will absolutely look at the legality of this rule. The more support it enjoys, and the better articulated the argument, the more likely it is to withstand legal scrutiny.
Text of my submitted comment
I write in strong support of the proposed Office of Personnel Management Rule, Upholding Civil Service Protections and Merit System Principles, RIN 3206–AO56, Docket ID: OPM–2023–0013. The proposed rule is excellent, and provides well-considered protections against the dangers posed by politicization. In particular, the previously signed Schedule F Executive Order represents the greatest threat to the system of merit embedded in the American civil service system since its inception.
I write as a McCourt Chair of Public Policy at Georgetown University. I am the former President of the Public Management Research Association, the current President of the Association of Public Policy and Management, and a member of the National Academy of Public Administration. I have studied the public management of public organizations for over two decades, writing dozens of peer-reviewed and award-winning research articles and books on the topic of government performance and accountability. I have also written specifically about the effects that Schedule F would have on American government. In this comment, I pull together the highest quality research I am aware of about the effects of increasing politicization on public sector outcomes, such as capacity, performance, and accountability.
The bottom line is that Schedule F would represent an unprecedented increase in politicizing the federal workforce, which would predictably undermine performance and accountability in the federal government, as well as democratic values such as transparency and the rule of law. By limiting its scope and specifying how it would work, the proposed rule has provided appropriate protection against the negative effects of Schedule F.
The US already has a system that is relatively politicized
Among developed countries, the US is an outlier in terms of its existing level of politicization. We use about 4,000 political appointees to run the executive branch. Up to the top five layers of leadership in a department or agency can be appointees, a sharp contrast with most peer countries where only the top layer is part of the political class. It is also the case that the Presidents often struggle to fill these slots, leading to delays in appointments and vacancies in leadership.
In 1990, former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker led a commission that proposed that the US needed to cut its appointees, pointing to the delays and performance problems associated with America’s reliance on often inexperienced appointees. Instead, the number of appointees has increased from about 3,000 to 4,000 in the intervening years, even as the number of federal employees has stayed roughly similar.
The writers of Schedule F have proposed using it to add 50,000 appointees, an extraordinary increase in politicization. The author of the Schedule F order, James Sherk, offered 50,000 as a likely and low end estimate: “I think there are ways you could broaden the scope of the order. How much is an open question…I think you can expand it beyond 50,000….I think it could be somewhat broadened to sweep in some more of those positions that have an influence on policy.” He also said “All executive authority is vested in the President. Every federal employee should serve at the pleasure of the president.”
 NAPA WASH, “Forum on Schedule F and the Future of the Public Service”, YouTube Video, June 29, 2023,
In other words, Schedule F is seen as the tip of a spear in a broader movement to remove protections against politicization for all federal employees. President Trump has also been clear as to what he sees the purpose of Schedule F. He has said: “Either the deep state destroys America or we destroy the deep state”, vowing "retribution" for his political enemies. Elsewhere, Trump has said: “We will pass critical reforms making every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States. The deep state must and will be brought to heel.” Schedule F offers the key means to achieve Trump’s vision. Indeed, Trump loyalists already reportedly have lists of public servants to be purged because of perceived disloyalty to Trump. The lack of clear definition and breadth of Schedule F allows it to serve as a promise for wide scale partisan retribution for any federal employee who might raise concerns about the legality of the policy agenda of a twice-impeached President.
Increasing the number of political appointees would create a new venue where such polarization would undermine the quality of governance by replacing moderates with extremists. Based on donation records, research by Brian Feinstein and Abby K. Wood shows that political appointees tend to be found at ideological extremes on both the right and left, while career officials tend to be more moderate. This implies that the sort of rapid change of political appointees with a new administration would, as it did during the 19th century spoils system, engender instability. The consistency in the implementation of laws as written by Congress would decline under such circumstances.
Research consistently shows that politicization undermines government capacity and performance
The reliance on appointees is, according to the best evidence, undermining government performance. A recent systemic review of empirical research on the use of merit-based processes across countries concluded that “factors such as meritocratic appointments/recruitment, tenure protection, impartiality, and professionalism are strongly associated with higher government performance and lower corruption.”
Evidence from the US federal government by David Lewis shows that political appointees are associated with lower program performance. Using measures of performance from the George W. Bush administration, he shows that the lack of practical executive experience of political appointees, who typically stay in position for only 18-24 months, was associated with lower performance. Later research using more sophisticated analysis of the same measures confirmed the negative relationship between political appointment status and program performance, while showing that appointees selected because of their campaign or party experience were especially likely to undermine performance. This research is notable as it uses program level measures of performance, across government, rather than narrower measures limited to a specific process or policy.
Politicization also undermines government capacity. Historical research by Sean Gailmard and John Patty shows that the protections of the US civil service system generate better outcomes because they allow public officials a time horizon and security to invest in task-specific expertise in public sector skills. Politicizing the workplace does the opposite. Research during the Trump administration confirms this point, showing that more politicized environments undermine incentives for career bureaucrats to invest in their skills, and instead encourages them to look for work elsewhere. Given the well-established aging of the federal bureaucracy, this will further increase the human capital crisis of the federal workplace. Since much of federal employment work is technical in nature, and requires deep knowledge of programs, this makes both task-specific knowledge and institutional experience important, and impossible to easily replace.
There is simply no equivalent research evidence to support the case for politicization. Advocates of Schedule F have cited an unpublished paper by Spenkuch, Teso and Xu who find that if there is misalignment between political appointees and career agency officials in political ideology, this leads to cost overruns and delays in procurement contracts. But the article actually shows the risks of politicization. While there are certainly key decisions where political appointees should shape policy, specific procurement outcomes is not one. There is no Democratic or Republican ideological approach to procurement that should alter how existing legal processes are implemented. Further politicizing this process invites the risk of temporary partisan appointees redirecting procurement processes to satisfy politically favored contractors. Indeed, peer-reviewed research in the top-ranked American Journal of Political Science shows exactly this point. A review of federal procurement processes between 2003-2015 shows that greater politicization is associated with more non-competitive contracts, and greater cost overruns. The authors also find evidence that private firms seeking contracts with more politicized agencies adjust their staffing to match with the partisan occupants of the White House, an indicator of how they seek to take advantage of politicization at the public expense. The authors conclude: “that agency designs that limit appointee representation in procurement decisions reduce political favoritism.” Schedule F would massively increase such politicization, and could reliably assume to lead to the misuse of public procurement processes for partisan ends.
Schedule F would undermine accountability
The overt purpose of Schedule F is partisan politicization, centered on political loyalty to the President.
While some advocates of Schedule F have presented it as a means of restoring accountability in government, President Trump, who has signed it and made it central to his plans for a second administration has been very explicit about its purpose, which is to impose personal loyalty tests, and to use government as an instrument of his power. This is at odds with the purpose and traditions of the American state.
The Founders were deeply concerned with the amassing of centralized power, and Schedule F frustrates the institutional design of checks and balances. In particular, it weakens legislative power. The creation of the civil service system was a response to a spoils system that led to abuses of state resources and power.
It is impossible to ignore Trump’s statements on how Schedule F would be used. While less of a theme in the 2020 election, he has subsequently made clear that Schedule F would be used to fix what he saw as the problems of his first administration. These include a failure of career staff to participate in his illegal effort to withhold arms to an ally in exchange for damaging information on his political opponents. It was after President Trump’s first impeachment that he pursued loyalty tests of his own political appointees. Career public servants, such as those who raised objections when Trump withheld aid from Ukraine, were forced to choose between loyalty to their oath to the constitution or their job. Trump frequently targeted such officials for abuse, denial of promotions, or investigations for their perceived disloyalty. With Schedule F he would simply have fired them.
News reporting shows that Trump also blamed the administrative state for undermining his effort to continue in office despite his 2020 electoral loss, and is seeking more politically pliant and personally loyal officials for a second administration, ones who would have less objection to violating the law if the President ordered them to.
Thus both the actions of Trump during his administration, and his statements since then, make clear the goal of Schedule F is to ensure a narrow form of political loyalty at the expense of other forms of accountability. A non-partisan civil service maintains key democratic cornerstones, such as following the law and due process, loyalty to the constitution and providing transparency about wrongdoing within the executive branch.
Schedule F undermines accountability to the public and Congress
Research finds that more politicized agencies are less responsive to the public and Congress. Using FOIA requests and congressional committee requests, Abby Wood and David Lewis find that politicized agencies were slower to respond, even when controlling for agency size and workload. They conclude that: “The difficulties in responding appear to be due to poor performance of the FOIA offices, either because political actors focus more on other agency activities or because of poorer management agency-wide.”
Other research confirms the negative effects of agency politicization on responsiveness to Congress. Work by Kenneth Lowande analyzed over 24,000 Congressional requests made to 13 executive agencies between 2007 and 2014. He finds that the greater the presence of political appointees, the lower the responsiveness to members of Congress, especially to members of Congress who are not part of the President’s party. This decline in responsiveness affected both policy-related requests as well as inquiries about constituency service. In other words, both elected officials and members of the general public suffer the effects of politicization in terms of lower responsiveness.
I see no evidence that Congress has desired a program of massive politicization envisaged by Schedule F. The last major revision of the civil service system by Congress was in 1978, with the Civil Service Reform Act. I wrote an oral history of the passage of that law. Policymakers wrestled with a desire to find a balance between more flexibility in managing the public sector with a desire to maintain a merit based civil service system. They acted in the aftermath of abuses of civil service personnel that occurred during the Nixon administration, and minimizing a repeat of such politicization was a priority. Policymakers clearly had no intention to encourage the type of broad tool enabling politicization such as Schedule F. There was also no evidence for the claim the claim that the President had broad authority to remove civil service protections from tens of thousands of employees. I know of no documents that show such a consensus among Congressional members for such a move at any period since the creation of the civil service system.
On a simple procedural point. Schedule F was developed in secret, with no consultation of public management researchers or experts who could provide evidence to inform its adoption. It was written by Trump political appointees specifically to serve President Trump. Such is the prerogative of Presidents and their executive orders, of course. By contrast, the proposed rule is thoroughly researched, and invites public comment. This is an appropriate level of engagement for such an extraordinary change to the civil service system. It would be better yet for Congress to engage its authority to modernize the civil service system.
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