‘Authoritarianism 101’: Trump Plot to Purge Civil Servants If Reelected Draws Alarm

Julia Conley, Common Dreams

Government watchdogs on Friday warned that a plan by former President Donald Trump to drastically remake the federal workforce should he win the presidency in 2024 would “utterly destroy” public service in the United States.

As Axios reported Friday, central to Trump’s plans for a second term is the reinstatement of his executive order known as “Schedule F,” which established a new category of federal employees.

Under the executive order, which Trump signed just days before losing the 2020 election, thousands of federal workers who have served under presidents from both major political parties could be reclassified as “Schedule F” employees, eliminating their employment protections.

Trump could purge as many as 50,000 members of the nonpartisan workforce who he deems to have influence over policy decisions, leaving them with no recourse, and fill their jobs with “loyalists to him and his ‘America First’ ideology,” according to sources who spoke to Axios.

Max Berger of pro-labor media organization More Perfect Union suggested Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis would also be likely to reinstate Schedule F—which was quickly rescinded by President Joe Biden in January 2021—if he runs for president and wins.

The executive order amounts to “authoritarianism 101,” Berger tweeted.

Schedule F “would effectively upend the modern civil service, triggering a shock wave across the bureaucracy,” wrote Jonathan Swan at Axios. “The next president might then move to gut those pro-Trump ranks—and face the question of whether to replace them with her or his own loyalists, or revert to a traditional bureaucracy. Such pendulum swings and politicization could threaten the continuity and quality of service to taxpayers, the regulatory protections, the checks on executive power, and other aspects of American democracy.”

The plan would go “beyond ‘deconstructing the administrative state,'” said the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, which advocates for regulatory protections for the economic system, public health, and other sectors. “It’s a plan to utterly destroy it.”

While pushing to reinstate Schedule F should he take office again, Swan reported, “Trump has reduced his circle of advisers and expunged nearly every former aide who refused to embrace his view that the 2020 election was ‘stolen'”—suggesting he is likely to seek out government employees who share that view.

Although Biden rescinded Trump’s order, U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) has remained concerned that Schedule F will be reintroduced in 2025 under a Republican administration. He authored an amendment to the defense spending bill that would prevent “any position in the competitive service from being reclassified to an excepted service schedule that was created after September 30, 2020, and limits federal employee reclassifications.”

The House passed Connolly’s amendment on July 14 in a 215-201 vote, but Republicans in the Senate plan to block its passage, Axios reported.

“Congress [must] codify protections against this evil plan to place political allies of Trump throughout the government,” said Fred Wellman, host of the podcast On Democracy. “Do not underestimate the destruction this will cause.”

Walter Shaub, senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, called on the White House to go beyond simply halting Trump’s executive order and work with Congress to ensure legislation is passed protecting federal employees regardless of their political beliefs.

“Administration officials are aware of the issue,” said Shaub. “But as with every other needed democracy reform, this administration has time and again proven it is not up to this crucial moment in history.”

The reinstatement of Schedule F would result in a “reckless, lawless administration,” said Georgetown University professor Don Moynihan.

“How bad could Schedule F be? The people planning to use it to take control of the executive branch have shown themselves comfortable with breaking the law in ways that undermine American democracy,” said Moynihan, pointing to Trump ally Jeffrey Clark, an attorney who is being investigated by the FBI and Congress and who the former president wanted to install as attorney general.

 

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