US government civil servants could face mass firings under an executive order before President Donald Trump leaves office, and Democratic lawmakers, watchdog groups and unions are scrambling to block it.
Thirteen House Democrats, including Gerry Connolly, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Government Operations and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, on Tuesday urged appropriators in a letter to reverse the October order in their next spending bill.
The October 21 order allows agencies to reclassify workers involved in policy-making to a new "Schedule F" category without the job protections they have now. The agencies must complete their reviews by January 19, the day before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
The White House order says Trump is pushing to streamline the federal bureaucracy, increase accountability and make it easier to clear out "poor performers." The federal government employs about 2 million people in total.
The executive order would "expedite the hiring of political appointees into jobs without regard to merit and place them in roles best served by career civil servants—including economists, scientists, and data analysts," the Democrats' letter said.
House and Senate Democrats asked the nonpartisan Congressional Government Accountability Office to monitor implementation of the order this week, warning it could result in "a mass exodus" of federal employees in coming weeks.
Critics call the move part of an ongoing assault on government bureaucracy that has drained expertise and skills during the Trump administration.
The White House Office of Management and Budget has requested to reclassify 88% of its workforce of 425 workers to the new category, Real Clear Politics reported this week. OMB did not return repeated requests for information.
The order has drawn fire from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 federal and Washington, DC government workers, and the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers.
A spokeswoman for the Office of Personnel Management, which must sign off on the reclassifications, said the review period was still open. The order allowed officials to establish a process to address any alleged "prohibited personnel practices" against Schedule F employees, but gave no further details.