'Very bad signs': Columnist warns of a Trump plan for a 'massive, government-wide purge' before leaving

'Very bad signs': Columnist warns of a Trump plan for a 'massive, government-wide purge' before leaving
President Donald J. Trump signs a Presidential Memorandum in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, for the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Labor on making general use face masks available to our healthcare workers. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Since the November 3 election, President Donald Trump has fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Homeland Security official Chris Krebs and others he considered insufficiently loyal. But more firings are likely during Trump's final weeks in office, and Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell is predicting that there will be a lot of them.

"Trump has been quietly dismantling the entire federal civil service — and possibly laying the groundwork for a massive, government-wide purge on his way out the door," Rampell explains. "Trump signed a technical-sounding executive order in October that invented a new category of government employees, called 'Schedule F.' Career civil servants whose jobs include 'policymaking,' the order said, should be newly reclassified under Schedule F — a designation that would strip them of long-held civil service protections and allow them to be fired with little demonstrated cause or recourse. Including, presumably, for showing insufficient loyalty to Trump."

Rampell observes that Trump "gave the heads of federal agencies 90 days — that is, until January 19, Inauguration Eve — to review their personnel rosters and decide which roles should be Schedule F." According to Rampell, an Office of Management and Budget memo that was leaked last week "proposed reclassifying 88% of his agency's workforce, or 425 employees, under Schedule F."

"These are very bad signs," Rampell warns. "OMB, for example, reaches across nearly every government function, given its involvement in setting budgets and vetting regulations for other agencies. Had Trump won a second term, he presumably would have used this reclassification to clear out distrusted members of the 'Deep State.' Already, Trump has been working to politicize traditionally independent agencies, including by 'burrowing' political appointees into senior civil service jobs for which they're not qualified."

Rampell adds, "Now that he's lost, it's reasonable to wonder if Trump simply plans to fire — and perhaps not replace — as many career experts as possible, leaving Biden with a hollowed-out government unable to perform even its most basic functions. In other words: a purge."

The Post columnist points out that Max Stier, president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, has described Trump's actions as "crashing the car before turning back the keys." And Rampell notes that a union of federal government employees has "challenged the Schedule F executive order in court" and that Democrats "have tried to block it."

"Presumably, the incoming Biden Administration could reverse Trump's executive order and try to rehire civil servants fired under it," Rampell notes. "But in the meantime, a chill is running through the ranks of the civil service. Workers who should be focusing on the country's health or economic crisis are instead worried about their own job security, and whether it's still safe to speak truth to power."

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