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Trump Weakens Protections For Class Of Federal Workers

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The presidential transition is much in the news. We're talking about the drama over whether the Trump administration will cooperate with the incoming Biden administration and the high-profile nominees the Biden team is introducing. But we want to focus on employees who usually don't get much attention. We're talking about the civil service.

Just before the election, President Trump issued an executive order creating a new category of federal employees known as Schedule F. Why would he do this? NPR's Brian Naylor has been following this story, and he is with us now to tell us more. Brian, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with this new classification that President Trump established, Schedule F. What exactly does that mean, and what does it change?

NAYLOR: So it states that these positions are confidential policy-determining, policymaking or policy-advocating positions. So these are the people at the top of these federal agencies. Maybe they supervise lawyers at the Justice Department or oversee scientists at the National Institutes of Health. To be honest, though, it's a little bit unclear exactly what positions will fall under this new classification because the agencies have until January 19 to list them. And they're still working on coming up with what exactly this policy will cover.

MARTIN: And what does the administration - what does the Trump administration say is the rationale for this, especially at this very late stage of its tenure?

NAYLOR: Well, you know, the Trump administration has railed against the civil service since the start. President Trump has often referred to the deep state and has said that these are people who are undermining his policy initiatives.

And there's also a concern - and this is a long-standing concern - that it is really difficult to remove a civil service employee who's not doing a good job. It just takes a lot of time. So backers of this, supporters of this say this is a way of being able to get rid of some bad wood.

MARTIN: There's another phenomenon that I wanted to ask you about. It's about administration officials or appointees who had political positions but who then are converted into civil service positions. It's my understanding this is called burrowing in. Is that also going on?

NAYLOR: What this is is the administration is trying to get some of the politically appointed people into the career civil service. And we should say this is not unique to the Trump administration. The Obama administration, the Bush administration - they all try to leave some of their folks in place.

We don't know exactly how widespread it is. There are reports that there might be, you know, a couple hundred people across the vast federal government who have been moved into these positions. But as I say, it's not very transparent. But still, it pales, really, to the effect that this Schedule F change will have on the federal workforce.

MARTIN: Given your knowledge of these previous sort of analyses, like, how does this administration effort compare? Is this seen by people who have objectively evaluated the civil service? How is this viewed?

NAYLOR: Well, the people I've talked to who have looked at the civil service say that this is not the sort of change that's needed, that this would be a disaster, that this would inject politics throughout the civil service and that while there needs to be some kind of reforms, this is not the way to go about it. This could result in wholesale, you know, upheaval, firing of thousands of workers, making thousands of workers reapply for their jobs. It's seen as very destructive to the civil service.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, thanks for keeping us abreast of this. That is NPR Washington correspondent Brian Naylor. Brian, thank you so much.

NAYLOR: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.