Florida Gov. DeSantis calls for 'cleaning out' federal science agencies
DeSantis, widely expected to run for president in 2024, took aim at the CDC, NIH and FDA.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week endorsed the revival of a Trump-era initiative aimed at stripping tens of thousands of federal employees of their civil service protections.
The Republican governor, widely expected to announce his candidacy for president in the coming months, spoke highly of former President Trump’s abortive effort in an interview with right-wing pundit Mark Levin on his Fox News TV show Sunday.
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.
His remarks were reminiscent of a line from former Gov. Jeb Bush's second inaugural speech, in which he talked about wanting to empty state office buildings of all their workers, turning them into "silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill.”
Although some agencies had begun work on the process of finding and requesting approval from the Office of Personnel Management to implement the order, ultimately there wasn’t enough time to convert any federal employees to the new job classification before President Biden rescinded the executive order shortly after his inauguration.
During the interview, DeSantis also suggested that more federal agency headquarters should be moved outside the Washington, D.C., region.
“I think if you look, D.C. votes 95-5 D to R,” he said. “All those agencies have been in D.C., so there’s been an accumulation of power, there’s been an accumulation of groupthink in terms of how they operate. And if you took, like, one of these divisions and put them in Arkansas or on the Pacific coast, I think it would be better. I think it’s gotten really toxic in D.C., and I think you have so many people who are all kind of going in the same partisan direction, regardless of the outcome of the actual election.”
Eighty-five percent of federal employees live and work outside of the Washington, D.C., region, per the Partnership for Public Service.
Governor rails against federal agencies for putting 'control' over science
DeSantis prefaced his support for Schedule F by railing against federal agencies involved in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, accusing them without evidence of implementing public health policies not based on science, but “control.”
“It’s not about the medicine, it’s about control—they wanted to exercise power over people,” he said. “If you look at all these entrenched bureaucrats at the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration]—they need to be cleaned out, because they totally failed and they’re not advocating for the best interests of the people of this country. It’s been a total disaster.”
“But it’s hard to remove them with the civil service rules and the union rules and all the rest,” Levin said.
“Well, there was a proposal that I think a lot of us wanted to see under the prior administration to do a Schedule F,” DeSantis responded. “So anyone who has any policy role is classified as a Schedule F, and they can be removed by the president. The left would litigate that, but I honestly think we would win on that in the Supreme Court.”
DeSantis did not go quite as far as some of his Republican colleagues, such as the 14 House lawmakers who sponsored legislation last year to convert the entire federal workforce into being at-will employees, strip them of most of the tools available to appeal adverse personnel actions and abolish the Merit Systems Protection Board.
Cleaning out the 'bowels of the bureaucracy'
“I also think that it’s one thing to have some type of job rules for the bowels of the bureaucracy like your supervisor and what they can do,” he said. “But the president has Article 2 power. Who controls the executive branch: is it the elected president, or is it some bureaucrat in the bowels of the bureaucracy who can’t be fired?
"So I think that push needs to come to shove on this, but whoever gets a majority in the electoral college has the right to impose their agenda through the executive branch ... Re-constitutionalizing government starts with re-constitutionalizing the executive branch under Article 2.”
Although Trump’s plan did not come about, Democrats, federal employee organizations and good government advocates have been sounding the alarm that it—or another proposal like it—would return not just in a scenario where Trump is re-elected, but with any conservative Republican presidential candidate.
Last year, reports emerged that former Trump administration and conservative think tank staffers had continued work on Schedule F, going so far as to identify 50,000 federal workers who could be immediately moved into Schedule F and threatened with removal upon the inauguration of the next GOP president.
Legislation introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Gerry Connolly, both D-Va., would prevent the president from unilaterally adding a new job classification to the excepted service, and create a series of new restrictions on how jobs may be reclassified within the confines of the current system.
A version of this story was first published by Government Executive.
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