Maryland Democrats expressed outrage and alarm this week about an executive order issued quietly by President Donald Trump on Wednesday night that could change the status of thousands of federal employees.
The order would designate federal employees who make policy to “excepted service,” making it easier for political appointees to fire these workers at will ― even though they are considered civil servants. Critics contend the order also removes hiring preferences within the federal government for military veterans.
U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), whose district includes a large concentration of federal workers, called Trump’s order “the largest assault on our civil service since the establishment of the modern civil service system in 1883” as well as “a betrayal of the hardworking, dedicated, and patriotic Americans who have chosen to work on behalf of their fellow citizens as civilian federal employees.
“It is also a slap in the face to veterans, who under President Trump’s order will no longer be given hiring preference for thousands of federal positions,” Hoyer said. “It is yet another example of his disdain for those who have served our nation and who wish to serve it still.”
The order applies to current and new positions and gives federal agency heads seven months to conduct a review of their workforces to determine which jobs will be converted to the new status. In his order, Trump cast his decision as a way of boosting worker morale and creating more accountability at federal agencies.
“Given the importance of the functions they discharge, employees in such positions must display appropriate temperament, acumen, impartiality, and sound judgment,” he wrote. “Due to these requirements, agencies should have a greater degree of appointment flexibility with respect to these employees than is afforded by the existing competitive service process.”
While it isn’t clear how many federal workers could see their status changed, critics of the Trump rule estimate that it could deny due process rights ― and the ability to join unions ― for hundreds of thousands of senior-level officials, including attorneys, scientists and public health experts, among others.
“Congress created these rules to guard against arbitrary hiring and firing decisions that are based not on job performance but on political affiliation, personal loyalty tests, and outright discrimination,” said Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “President Trump’s executive order throws those rules out the window for an enormous portion of the federal workforce. Through this order, President Trump has declared war on the professional civil service by giving himself the authority to fill the government with his political cronies who will pledge their unwavering loyalty to him ― not to America.”
Trump has long been at odds with federal employee unions, and the workers’ Democratic allies in Congress have blistered the administration’s policies for government workers.
“Trump is uncomfortable with career civil servants who pledge loyalty to our country, not to him personally,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a tweet this week. “This would destroy a merit-based system that rewards expertise, not political cronyism. We must and will stop this abuse of power.”