Trump’s package of three workforce directives in May 2018 assaulted labor-management relations and destroyed years of government workplace norms. Two severely restricted the ability of unions to represent and defend employees, including those who are not union members. The third facilitated the Republican Party’s fire-feds-faster ethos by saying agencies need not suspend workers before termination, among other provisions.
Another order last month would move thousands of federal civil servants into a new employee classification, Schedule F, without civil service protections, allowing them to be fired for political reasons. In September, Trump commanded agencies to stop many fundamental elements of diversity and inclusion training, including those covering institutional and unconscious racism and sexism.
“On my first day in office, I will restore federal employees’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, restore their right to official time [allowing limited union work with government pay], and direct agencies to bargain with federal employee unions over non-mandatory subjects of bargaining,” Biden said about the 2018 orders in response to an American Federation of Government Employees’ (AFGE) pre-election questionnaire.
Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, the Virginia Democrat who chairs the House subcommittee on government operations, said he will work with Biden to overturn “the Trump administration’s feckless attacks” on the civil service. “The disastrous Schedule F proposal will be reversed,” he said.
Biden’s team has not announced a position on that order or the one on diversity and inclusion.
Biden “needs a ‘fix-it-fast’ rescue team to go into federal agencies and start repairing the years of damage that polarization has created,” said Paul C. Light, a New York University public service professor who has written extensively on the federal government.
One way to combat inappropriate and excessive political influence, notably in science agencies and the Justice Department, is to reduce the 4,000 political appointee slots, as Light and Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, long have advocated. Stier also suggested moving career employees into what now are political positions, which could reduce partisan influence.
Biden told AFGE he would protect federal employees from improper political considerations and allow government scientists full academic freedom. That would have shielded federal weather forecasters from being drawn into controversy after Trump displayed an altered map to make a point about a path Hurricane Dorian did not take in September 2019.
Under Biden, federal employees will not “have to worry that they might find themselves drawing the ire of the president” for political reasons, said National Federation of Federal Employees President Randy Erwin.
Biden promised the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) he would “aggressively hold the line against any effort…to diminish federal employees’ right to due process in the workplace, while also working to modernize hiring practices to ensure we can recruit competitively.”
Replying to NARFE’s campaign questions, Biden encouraged “those who felt they had to leave the federal workforce during the Trump Administration” to consider returning. To encourage federal recruitment, Biden said he will forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for every five years on the job.
More difficult to quickly reverse is last week’s decision by the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) to bust the National Association of Immigration Judges, a union that has clashed with the administration over deportation case quotas during Trump’s enforcement of controversial immigration policies.
In August, three months before the decision to decertify the judge’s union, the Federal Workers Alliance called for the removal of FLRA Chairwoman Colleen Duffy Kiko and James T. Abbott, the Republican appointees, because they have issued “the most intellectually bankrupt and corrupt decisions ever contemplated — and they are unabashed in their willingness to twist the facts and the law to suit their anti-union purposes.”
Firing FLRA appointees is complicated and not expected. Biden, however, can nominate a Democrat to fill one of two seats currently held by Republicans on the three-member authority.
On bread-and-butter issues, feds will find a receptive partner in Biden. When he was vice president, the Obama administration angered feds with a three-year freeze on basic pay rates. Biden committed to “consistent and regular pay increases necessary to ensure federal salaries remain competitive” in response to NARFE’s questions and opposed cuts to their health insurance and retirement benefits, as Republicans repeatedly have proposed.
He promised to protect federal employees and the public “from government shutdowns like the one precipitated by the Trump Administration in 2018-2019. It is unacceptable that 800,000 federal employees, including hundreds of thousands of veterans, had their work and their pay jeopardized due to political fighting.”
Federal employees “are some of the most talented, hardworking, and inspiring people I have ever met, worthy of the utmost dignity and respect,” Biden told NARFE. “I personally benefited from their expertise and professionalism as Vice President, and we need more of them.”