The Biden administration is trying to protect unelected federal bureaucrats from being fired in the event of a Republican victory in 2024, according to a document filed with the Federal Register on Friday morning.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), an agency that manages all federal workers, proposed a rule that would protect the vast majority of career civil servants from being dismissed without cause, and give them the right to appeal, according to the filing. The rule would oppose the efforts of some Republican presidential candidates — should they become president — to unilaterally fire bureaucrats who disagree with conservative policies, as they have vowed to do.
“The 2.2 million career civil servants active today are the backbone of the Federal workforce … [t]hese employees take an oath to uphold the Constitution and are accountable to agency leaders and managers who, in turn, are accountable to the President,” the filing reads. “[M]ere disagreement with leadership—without defiance of lawful orders—does not qualify as misconduct or unacceptable performance.”
Civil servants, unlike political appointees, normally cannot be dismissed by the president or their designees at will, but may only be terminated for certain causes. Republicans have frequently complained about civil servants’ alleged left-wing political bias, which the claim manifests in hidden subversion of conservative policy agendas — leading some GOP candidates to vow to target “the deep state” if elected.
“The myth that has been taken for granted in our national history is that the president is limited in his ability to fire [federal] employees … [but] large-scale reductions in force are not covered by the statute,” said Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy during a speech about the federal bureaucracy on Wednesday. “Large-scale mass layoffs are absolutely what we will bring.”
Ramaswamy aims to dismiss at least 75% of the federal workforce, Axios first reported.
“On bureaucracy, you know, we’re going to have all these deep-state people, you know, [and] we’re going to start slitting throats on Day 1,” said Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis on Aug. 3.
Former President Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, had issued an executive order during his term in 2020 that moved many civil servants into the “excepted service” of political appointees, though it was rescinded by President Joe Biden upon taking office.
The OPM’s proposed rule would enable career civil servants reclassified into the excepted service to retain their civil service protections at the time of hiring. It would also add new procedures that are required to move bureaucrats into the excepted service.
Some Republican policy experts do not think the rule would have much effect if a GOP administration takes office. “The next administration can just as easily rescind those restrictions … this proposed rule would be a speed bump, but nothing more,” said James Sherk, a former Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy in the Trump administration, to The New York Times.
The White House and Ramaswamy’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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