President Trump signed an executive order last week that could turn tens of thousands of nonpartisan career civil service jobs into "excepted service" positions, stripping federal scientists, public health experts, attorneys, regulators, and other policy professions of civil service protections. These career employees would essentially become political appointees whom the president could fire without cause or recourse.
Ronald Sanders, appointed by Trump to head the Federal Salary Council, cited this order when resigning Sunday, telling The Washington Post on Monday, "I don't want to sound too corny here, but it was just a matter of conscience."
Trump's order "is nothing more than a smoke screen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the president, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process," Sanders wrote in his resignation letter. "I simply cannot be part of an administration that seeks ... to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career federal employees are legally and duty-bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law ... not to be loyal to a particular president or administration."
Sanders, a lifelong Republican who has worked in federal personnel positions over four decades, said in his letter he "cannot in good conscience continue" to serve a president who "seeks to make loyalty to him the litmus test for many thousands of career civil servants." On MSNBC Monday night, Rachel Maddow applauded his letter a "very, very rare Trump administration profile in courage."
Trump's executive order "would be a profound reimagining of the career workforce, but one that may end up as a statement of purpose rather than anything else," the Post notes. "The order fast-tracks a process that gives agencies until Jan. 19 to review potentially affected jobs. That’s a day before the next presidential inauguration. An administration under Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be unlikely to allow the changes to proceed."