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Office of Personnel Management
President Joe Biden’s new rule is meant to protect civil servants. But will it work? Mark Schiefelbein/AP

The Biden Administration’s New Move to Protect Civil Servants May Be Little Solace

“The threat of a politicized civil service is too great, and too real, for this to be the end of our efforts,” Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said.

The Biden administration is implementing a new rule that would make it more difficult for presidents to fire civil servants, as former President Donald Trump and his allies make clear they would want to do if Trump wins the presidency in November.

But the new rule would not be enough to stop those plans, according to both its supporters and opponents.

“The threat of a politicized civil service is too great, and too real, for this to be the end of our efforts,” Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said in a statement applauding the new rule and calling for further legislation, which he said is “the only permanent solution to a problem that is not going away any time soon.”

The new Office of Personnel Management rule follows President Joe Biden removing Schedule F on his third day in office. Schedule F was a policy put forward late in Trump’s presidency that would have made it much easier to fire civil servants, part of Trump’s bid to destroy the “deep state.”

The new rule ensures that those protections cannot be involuntarily revoked once a civil servant has accrued civil service protections.

“A future administration could seek to reverse this rule,” said Cissy Jackson, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, which has pushed protections for civil servants.

Of course, the new rule would delay a new administration making bigger changes, but it would just be a delay.

“The agency would need to go through the notice and comment rulemaking process to amend or reverse a rule put in place this way. That process would take at least several months,” Jackson added. Writing protections into law, she said, would be the more meaningful step. “Unfortunately, bipartisan support for such legislation is currently very slim,” she said.

Connolly and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick introduced legislation last year that would put civil servant protections in law. Sen. Tim Kaine, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, welcomed the new rule while reiterating the need for a permanent solution. “I will continue to push for my Saving the Civil Service Act so we can etch this progress into federal statute,” he said in a statement.

Trump’s allies used the new rule to knock the way the civil service works today and push again for plans to overturn the system.

“OPM’s final rule is yet another example of the Biden administration’s efforts to insulate the federal workforce from accountability,” Rep. James Comer, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement. “The Biden administration’s rule will further undermine Americans’ confidence in their government since it allows poor performing federal workers and those who attempt to thwart the policies of a duly elected president to remain entrenched in the federal bureaucracy.”

Project 2025, the coalition of Trump-aligned conservatives aiming to reshape the federal bureaucracy in a new Republican administration, has been the most prominent force pushing for the Schedule F changes. They reasserted that stance on Thursday.

“The bloated and uncontrollable Administrative State needs to be streamlined, right-sized and depoliticized — which has not happened in decades,” they told NOTUS in a statement. “The most effective and noble civil servants working in our federal government welcome the coming change — it is the bad apples who are now crying out against Project 2025.”

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.