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Ron Sanders, Staff Director of The Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida, and Jeffrey Neal, Chairman of the Board of Directors at NAPA, talk about the executive order about Schedule F and what it means for federal employees

A new executive order from President Trump created a new Schedule F designation that will make it easier for agency heads to hire and fire some federal employees. Ron Sanders, former Chief Human Capital Officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, stepped down from his role as Chair of the Federal Salary Council over the matter and said in his resignation letter that after seeing the executive order “as a matter of conscience” he could no longer serve the President or his Administration. He and Jeff Neal, former Chief Human Capital Officer at the Department of Homeland Security, spoke to “Government Matters” about the new rule and its impact on the workforce.

The executive order covers “confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating” roles, and it’s up to agency leaders to decide which federal roles qualify.

In his resignation letter, Sanders said, “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…However, it is clear… 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.”

The letter was submitted to John McEntee, Director of Presidential Personnel, and Michael Rigas, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management on Monday morning.

“This is a matter of personal conscience,” Sanders said. “In my opinion [the executive order is] a very sharp two-edged sword.”

Sanders said the order gives agency heads the chance to appoint political appointees and that while the rule claims to hold federal employees accountable, there are several reasons to be suspicious of the order’s intentions.

Jeff Neal also criticized the new rule in his blog, Chief HRO, where he wrote that the order is “the most direct assault on the career civil service since the passage of the Pendleton Act in 1883.”

Neal said the Schedule F rule could create tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of political appointees.

“It’s purporting to be something that addresses the problems with getting rid of poor performers, but the reality is that everything about it is done in a way that really is creating a new class of political appointees,” he said.

Neal said the executive order would undo 137 years of merit-based civil service.

“I don’t know anybody who’s realistically looking at the federal workforce who says ‘what we need is to increase the number of political appointees ten-fold or twenty-fold’” he said. “It’s just so blatantly, nakedly political.”

Agency leaders will need to review every role to determine whether it should be categorized under the new schedule. Sanders said he worries agency leaders will not comply with the rule and will not designate any roles under Schedule F.

“You want a responsive career civil service,” he said. “If a career civil servant disagrees with a policy of a president… there are certain appropriate things that he or she can do, but slow-rolling it or going underground… just makes the reason for the executive order appropriate.”

Sanders said the order blurs the line between political and career civil servants because policy-making is the duty of the political appointees; not civil servants.

Neal said the policy lacked the background work typically done for legislation that will impact a substantial portion of federal employees, and that the policymakers don’t know exactly how many jobs will be affected.

“The CHCOs who are going to be asked to implement this have a lot of background work that needs to be done,” he said.

The executive order lists a Jan. 19 deadline for Chief Human Capital Officers to conduct a preliminary review of agency positions, and a seven-month window for a complete review. Neal said a thorough review of all of the jobs impacted by the order will take months.

“I think doing this thing is going to take some time,” Neal said. “I don’t think it’s going to get done by January 19th.”

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