A coalition of conservative activist groups has launched a massive recruitment campaign for prospective political appointees in the next Republican presidential administration and joined the growing GOP chorus calling for reinstatement of a job classification created by the Trump administration.
In October 2020, Trump signed an executive order establishing a new job classification within the federal government’s excepted service for federal workers in policy-related jobs that would exempt their positions from most civil service rules. The edict ordered agencies to identify positions that would qualify for the new job category and convert employees in those jobs to what is called Schedule F, effectively making them at-will employees.
Project 2025, a Republican presidential transition project led by The Heritage Foundation, seeks to create a database of up to 20,000 potential hires into the next Republican presidential administration by the end of 2024. The effort’s launch was first reported by The New York Times and is being led by former Office of Personnel Management Chief of Staff Paul Dans and former Associate Director of Presidential Personnel Spencer Chretien.
If 20,000 seems like an unusually high number of candidates for the roughly 4,000 political appointees in the federal government, that’s because it is. That’s at least in part because, as part of a nearly 1,000-page policy document, the conservative groups joined the growing number of Republican officials, including former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who have endorsed reinstating Schedule F.
In the Heritage Foundation’s latest edition of its Mandate for Leadership books, the think tank lays out its vision for a post-Schedule F civil service.
“The people elect a president who is charged by Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution with seeing that the laws are ‘faithfully executed’ with his political appointees democratically linked to that legitimizing responsibility,” the book stated. “An autonomous bureaucracy has neither independent constitutional status nor separate moral legitimacy. Therefore, career civil servants by themselves should not lead policy changes and reforms.”
The book lambastes efforts to reserve positions within the Senior Executive Service for career staffers as contrary to the goals of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act and argues that Schedule F could serve as a solution.
“Actions such as career staff reserving excessive numbers of key policy positions as ‘career reserved’ to deny them to noncareer SES employees frustrate [the 1978 act's] intent,” the think tank wrote. “Another evasion is the general domination by career staff on SES personnel evaluation boards, the opposite of noncareer executives dominating these critical meeting discussions as expected in the SES . . . [Schedule F] should be reinstated, but SES responsibility should come first.”
The book also takes aim at federal employee unions, arguing that organized labor is “incompatible” with government management and endorsing—at a bare minimum—the return of a trio of Trump administration executive orders aimed at reducing the role of organized labor at federal agencies.
“Congress should also consider whether public-sector unions are appropriate in the first place,” the book stated. “The bipartisan consensus up until the middle of the 20th century held that these unions were not compatible with constitutional government. After more than half a century of experience with public-sector union frustrations of good government management, it is hard to avoid reaching the same conclusion.”
Don Kettl, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland and former dean of its School of Public Policy, described the transition initiative’s policy agenda as a “crystallization” of a number of proposals that have been circulating in conservative academia for years.
“I think what’s going on here is this is a three branches of government strategy,” he said. “Efforts for sure are underway to get legislative changes, including weakening the power of unions, and there are executive actions that would envision putting Schedule F back into place and other executive orders to do as much as they can to advance some of that. And they don’t talk much about that here, but they are also, behind the scenes, organizing right now to push a [court] case that would hold unions as unconstitutional.
"And there is a broader effort underway—more quietly—there are discussions and debates that would hold the entire civil service system as unconstitutional on the grounds that it abridges the president’s power to take care that laws are faithfully executed.”
Kettl said that although Heritage’s goal of 20,000 candidates for political appointments might show the initial reach of Schedule F in practice, it could balloon even further, potentially converting hundreds of thousands of jobs into at-will employment.
He said a rightward move on the federal civil service is unheard of among Western democracies, and has only really reappeared as a policy goal in states with recent authoritarian backsliding, such as Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro or Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
“The basic issue I think is this: once you crack the door and start using political loyalty for appointments, the implications of that could be vast and long-lasting, given the fact that we haven’t done so for so long,” Kettl said. “It certainly runs in the face of the way in which most governments in the world have approached their civil service systems, and it would make the U.S. a real outlier on this.”
Erich Wagner is a senior correspondent for Government Executive covering pay, benefits, organized labor and other federal workforce issues. A version of this story was first published there.