The presidential election is a year away, and an unpopular President Joe Biden is visibly losing mental acuity. “Weekend at Bernie’s III” was a sequel no one made, for good reason. The response from partisans on the left is panic, crowned by Washington Post editor Robert Kagan’s unhinged commentary, “A Trump dictatorship is increasingly inevitable”complete with a photo morphing former President Donald Trump into Julius Caesar.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Georgetown University professor Donald Moynihan thinks “Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State.’” He’s afraid conservatives, eager to avoid mistakes that hobbled the Trump administration, are getting better organized.

Moynihan cites The Heritage Foundation-led Project 2025 as the blueprint to “elevate personal fealty” as the “central value in government employment, processes, and institutions.” He fears that Trump will “terrify career civil servants into submission” by converting existing career jobs with a policy role into new “Schedule F” positions without tenure (hirable and fireable at will).

In brief, a “schedule” in federal employment refers to jobs that are managed outside the normal hiring and firing process. Schedule C positions, for example, are “excepted from the competitive service because of their confidential or policy-determining character” and filled with politically appointed, as opposed to career, employees. This allows presidents to ensure policy control during their administrations by picking people who will carry out their vision.

That’s why, for example, under Biden, open-borders activists that he elevated from the career bureaucracy undermine Immigration and Customs Enforcement, diverting its resources toward social services for illegal immigrants instead of border enforcement.

Not surprisingly, Biden’s “average Schedule C is a female, white Harvard Graduate” coming from a nonprofit organization and working at the White House, according to an analysis from the group Leadership Connect. This chart linked here shows how they are spread out across agencies. But with only a couple thousand Schedule C employees, each administration is reliant on the vast federal bureaucracy to carry out its goals. That’s where Schedule F comes in.

Let’s separate the media’s “Trump derangement syndrome” from the actual policy proposal.

In October 2020, Trump signed an executive order establishing the new Schedule F to include more “positions of a confidential, policy-determining, policy-making, or policy-advocating character.” In brief, Schedule F creates a larger class of employees directly responsible to the president. But it does not gut the civil service, as scare-mongering opponents claim.

First, the order would have required agency heads to justify at some length, on the record, why any position should be classified Schedule F.

Furthermore, Schedule F would have maintained prohibitions against discriminating “for or against any employee or applicant for employment on the basis of … political affiliation.” While the proposal did not contain a numerical cap, even 50,000 Schedule Fs—which no administration would ever be able to work through the system—would only amount to 2.5% of the 2.2 million existing civil servants.

A small increase in staff more directly accountable to the president is a necessary counterweight to a federal government that increasingly tilts to the Left. Democrats are overrepresented in nearly every federal department and “are especially overrepresented in more-senior positions,” according to a 2021 study. The largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees, endorsed Biden in 2020 and polled its members at 62% for Biden and 17% for Trump.

Trump’s Schedule F order was repealed by Biden after he took office. But in our increasingly polarized country, even Democrat presidents might benefit from a little more control over their agencies. Keeping staff in line is harder than it used to be. For example, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients seems powerless to enforce the president’s orders for federal employees to get back to the office. Long past the COVID-19 crisis, only half of federal agencies have returned, and only for half the week.

Additionally, a generation ago, there was little tolerance for internal carping once policy had been set. Today’s rising generation of civil servants is used to sharing their thoughts on social media and reluctant to separate professional from personal opinions.

In response, the Biden administration has an almost masochistic level of tolerance for staff complaints. After the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, for example, hundreds of federal employees signed letters criticizing administration policy. Some State Department staff dissented through the correct professional channel, known as the “dissent channel,” but a Department of Homeland Security adjudicator of asylum claims went straight to social media, as did a senior CIA employee. An employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs shared an Instagram video mocking Israeli concern for hostages. Incredibly, even White House interns wrote a letter to Biden in which they demanded “a permanent ceasefire,” referred to Israeli “apartheid,” and insisted Biden back a “free Palestine.”

Rather than telling them all to get on with implementing the policies of their duly-elected boss, the administration offered counseling, bent over backward to listen to “feedback and ideas,” and wrote cringeworthy “we hear you” letters. And all of this is under Biden, for whom a majority of federal workers likely voted. Imagine the reaction of this same cohort to Trump policies.

In addition to Schedule F, Moynihan also alleges that Trump would use the legal system and government resources to “attack his political enemies and force through his policy goals without congressional approval.” This assertion is disingenuous for two reasons.

First, the legal system is already being politically weaponized by prosecutors from various jurisdictions across the country. The timing of the cases against Trump, three years after he left office and designed to be in full swing during the 2024 elections, is bad enough. But some of the charges are spurious, inflated, or could not conceivably have been brought against any other person.

Second, Biden is already “forc[ing] his goals without congressional approval.” He has ignored U.S. immigration law, given away billions by “forgiving” student loans, and injected gender ideology into legal protections that were meant for women, all without clear statutory authority. Where are the “democratic checks that limit the abuse of centralized power” of which Moynihan speaks?

It does not appear that Moynihan was ever a public servant, a perspective that would have been valuable to his analysis. I worked at the State Department for 23 years. In my experience, a majority of federal workers will do their jobs under presidents of either party, with greater or lesser enthusiasm, but in good faith. But a minority of “deep state” employees know how to slow-roll or use procedural knowledge to block initiatives they disagree with. They also know the personnel system has, over time, swung too far away from accountability.

Merit-protection laws intended to protect civil servants against political abuse should not be an impenetrable aegis against all responsibility for their misbehavior and have too often been used in recent years to shield federal employees who engage in politically biased, partisan actions.

Civil servants should follow any order that is not either illegal or so unethical that they cannot in good conscience carry it out. They have a duty to advise decision-makers, but if they are unable to persuade, they should either resign or get on with the job. Civil servants who adhere to this standard would have no fear of Schedule F appointments or the fair administration of existing professional standards.

Only around 10,000 federal employees are fired for poor performance or misconduct a year—about 0.4%. The firing process is onerous for the government, even when misconduct is grievous. Balancing a highly protected 97.5% of employees with a slightly increased cadre of Schedule F employees more directly accountable to the administration in office is not an unreasonable compromise.

Voters decide who runs the country, and presidents put trusted leaders in agencies to carry out the policies they were elected to perform.

Whether under a second Trump administration or not, it is time for a reform of the federal bureaucracy to strengthen American government, improve public services, and recalibrate the balance among our three branches of government.

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