Following Trump's lead, GOP pushes bill to make federal workers fireable 'at will'

Following Trump's lead, GOP pushes bill to make federal workers fireable 'at will'
Rep. Chip Roy of Texas speaking at the 2019 Young Americans for Liberty Convention at the Sheraton Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas in 2019, Gage Skidmore
Frontpage news and politics

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy's introduction Friday of a bill to make federal bureaucratic personnel at-will employees further stoked fears that marginalized workers will suffer discriminatory firings under a future Republican administration or even GOP-controlled Congress.

The Public Service Reform Act "will empower federal agencies to swiftly address misconduct and remove underperforming or ill-willed employees, creating a federal workforce focused on service to the American people," Roy (R-Texas) said in a statement.

The bill "would make all federal bureaucrats at-will employees—just like private sector workers—and claw back the inordinate protections some federal employees grossly abuse," he added.

The proposed legislation comes a week after reports that aides to former President Donald Trump are working to revive a plan to reclassify federal civil service personnel who worked under both Democratic and Republican administrations as at-will workers subject to easier termination.

Don Kettl, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, told Government Executive that "this is obviously a huge and major change, an effort to gear up a major assault on the federal employment system" that "is being helped and aided unquestionably by a set of groups like America First Works, Heritage Action for America, FreedomWorks, and Citizens for Renewing America, who have endorsed the bill."

"Much of the debate has largely been about if Trump is reelected," he added, "but what this makes clear is the efforts to try to change the civil service aren't just Trump necessarily, and if Republicans take control of Congress following the midterms, this may very well go from idea to specific action."

According to Government Executive:

Although the bill stands nearly zero chance of passing in the current Congress, experts say that it, combined with recent news that conservative political operatives with Trump's endorsement have devised plans to revive Schedule F, a proposal to strip the civil service protections from tens of thousands of federal employees in "policy-related" positions, indicates the civil service system as we have known it for the last 150 years will be under attack under the next Republican administration.

Although Roy says his bill "will provide justice to federal employees who are victims of discrimination or whistleblower retaliation," Kettl warned that the measure "dramatically limits the amount of whistleblowing activity that's possible," noting that "it creates a disincentive to blow the whistle because your retirement benefits could be reduced."

"When you put it together," he added, "it's a very big deal" and "would dramatically change the incentives for individuals who are being dismissed because of whistleblowing."

Author and transgender activist Brynn Tannehill worries that, should at-will employment become reality, "a purge of trans people from federal service" would follow a return of Trump or another Republican president to the White House.

Commenting on the mass firing of progressive staffers by San Francisco's new tougher-on-crime district attorney following Chesa Boudin's recall, socialist organizer Julian LaRosa recently argued for a codified employment termination standard similar to the one realized in the limited laws that labor activists led by Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union helped enact in Philadelphia and New York.

"Can we just get universal just cause in the workplace already?" he asked.

Testifying before New York City Council members in support of that city's 2021 just-cause law, former Chipotle worker Melanie Walker said she was suddenly fired by her manager one day for not smiling, even though there were no customers in the store.

"Everyone who's working needs to have some type of stability in your life," she said. "You should be able to go to work without thinking you have to be on eggshells all day, thinking that you can be fired at any moment for any cause."

"I'm loyal to you as a worker and you should be loyal to me," Walker added. "People still have to feed their families."

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