The Department of Energy is moving ahead with a controversial move by President Trump to make it easier for the federal government to fire and hire career staff, according to a document obtained by E&E News.
According to an internal memo issued this month, DOE's human resources department is developing a list of positions that would fall under the guidelines of an executive order that Trump signed in late October.
That order is the subject of a lawsuit by a union that represents federal employees, as well as legislation filed by congressional Democrats seeking to reverse the order (E&E Daily, Oct. 28).
Trump's order directed agency chiefs to create a new category of federal workers — "Schedule F" — and then reclassify certain employees, including supervisors and scientific experts. The order would, in effect, make the new class of employees serve "at will" — without the usual protections.
Analysts said the order reflected Trump's clash with the so-called deep state — or permanent workers who may be at odds with the president's regulatory agenda (Greenwire, Oct. 22). But it hadn't been immediately clear how the plan was being implemented at DOE.
The White House said at the time that the executive order's purpose was to make it more efficient to dismiss poorly performing government workers.
"Separating employees who cannot or will not meet required performance standards is important, and it is particularly important with regard to employees in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating positions," the order said.
Critics charge the order makes it easier for the federal government to dismiss scientists whose work it doesn't like and makes it easier to put unqualified political appointees in career positions.
DOE did not respond yesterday to a request for comment.
The memo circulating at DOE from the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer notes that positions eligible for Schedule F include those employees with "substantive participation in the advocacy for or the development or formulation of policy."
It also says that personnel in administrative policy positions should not be included but that the focus should be "higher-graded positions as they are most likely to meet the Schedule F criteria."
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees, including at DOE, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in October, alleging that the order is "unlawful" and "an extreme effort to politicize the federal government."
The memo notes that agencies are directed to submit an initial list of possible positions to the Office of Personnel Management for approval within 90 days — or Jan. 19, 2021 — the day before President-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated into office.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal employees, has urged Biden to rescind the order, which AFGE President Everett Kelley called "the most profound undermining of the civil service in our lifetimes."
Biden has pledged to reverse a number of Trump's executive orders, including reinstating and expanding job protections for government workers.
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