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‘Democracy’ Means Never Having to Hear ‘You’re Fired!’

‘Democracy’ Means Never Having to Hear ‘You’re Fired!’
Photo by History in HD / Unsplash
On fortifying managed democracy from ‘political interference’

I try not to let myself get dragged into writing quick reaction pieces on breaking news or stuff other people write. It’s a bad habit of the internet age. But what can I say, sometimes I just can’t help it. Sometimes something is just too juicy to resist. Sometimes something is just too pertinent an example of what I’ve been trying to talk about here. Sometimes something causes me to eye-roll so hard I briefly pass out and come to with a burning desire to tweet something – except I don’t have Xitter, only Substack, so…

I just came across an article fresh from the online pages of Government Executive (“From Swamp Parasites, For Swamp Parasites” is the magazine’s tagline, I assume). It’s mundanely titled “OPM issues its final rule for Schedule F protections,” and while that may not mean much to you it’s worth us taking a closer look at it, because this is one of those great examples of where the quiet part gets said (almost) out loud.

The article reports with some self-interested excitement that:

The Office of Personnel Management issued the final version of its regulation meant to safeguard the civil service from the return of a Trump-era policy that sought to convert most federal employees to at-will workers.

The new regulation — which will be published in the Federal Register for public inspection on Thursday — seeks to provide 2.2 million federal employees with defined protections that would make it difficult for a future administration to re-apply the Trump policy, known as Schedule F. [Emphasis mine]

For context, “Schedule F” was a measure Trump came up with (unfortunately only at the tail end of his presidency) to make it easier to actually fire permanent, non-appointed employees of executive branch federal agencies, aka the administrative state or “deep state” (or, as its denizens prefer to call it, the “civil service.”)

The regulation has its roots in an October 2020 executive order from the Trump administration that created a new job category for federal employees in policy-related positions, dubbed Schedule F, that would exempt them from civil service protections and make them easier to remove.

President Joe Biden rescinded the executive order in January 2021 before it could be fully implemented, but nine days before Biden took office, the Office of Management and Budget received OPM approval to move 68% of its workforce into Schedule F.

OPM officials began working on new regulations to make it difficult to reintroduce Schedule F policies in September 2023...

So federal bureaucrats (OPM) have designed new regulations preemptively creating an additional thicket of legal procedures and rules intended to cripple any attempt by a “future administration” to successfully fire federal bureaucrats.

Now, as noted, Schedule F applied to policy-related positions, i.e. to those people in government who spend their days actively deciding whether your lightbulbs ought to be banned, or the minimum amount of your taxpayer money the U.S. State Department should spend on deploying drag queens to Ecuador.

Although in theory it’s the elected legislative branch that passes laws ordering American citizens around, in actuality the Congress has for decades simply deferred to the executive agencies to interpret its vaguely-worded laws and make regulatory and policy decisions, freeing up legislators to spend their time fundraising and prattling on cable news shows instead. In other words, it is the bureaucrats of the administrative state who actually govern America at the federal level. And none of these people are elected.

But since the president is allegedly elected by the American people to lead the executive branch, in theory there should still be at least a thread of democratic accountability tying the federal agencies to the will of the demos: the president, through the agency heads he appoints, should be able to control the policies implemented by executive agencies, right? Wrong! As Trump found out while in office, these agencies are staffed to the gills with permanent bureaucrats who collectively hold distinct views about the policies they think should be implemented, and how, and believe that they have a right – nay, a duty! – to “resist” any order to the contrary from their boss. And ultimately personnel is policy, so if they don’t want to do something, it doesn’t happen.

Alex Hochuli 🇰🇬🇲🇭🇰🇮🇸🇨🇲🇿 on X: "An editor at a liberal US  publication told me, in a somewhat appalled tone, that I couldn't write "deep  state" because that's a conspiracy-theory idea put forward
In the deep state’s opinion.

But as Trump’s White House also found out, these bureaucrats essentially cannot ever be fired. Powerful public-sector unions and “civil service protections” imposed by Congress have made it nearly impossible to legally fire them, except through an (extremely drawn out) bureaucratic process (conducted internally by their own bureaucracy) to prove that they were “under-performing” at their job (of bureaucratizing the will of the bureaucracy).

Citizens may of course wonder who they can vote for who can fire these people. If they don’t answer to the president, their official boss, then who do they answer to? (Answer: no one). But then you see, for the one portion of the executive branch that’s still democratically elected to go around firing the people sabotaging the policies they were elected to carry out would actually amount to “political interference” in “our democracy”:

“Today, my administration is announcing protections for 2.2 million career civil servants from political interference, to guarantee that they can carry out their responsibilities in the best interest of the American people,” said Biden, in a statement. “Day in and day out, career civil servants provide the expertise and continuity necessary for our democracy to function. They provide Americans with life-saving and life-changing services and put opportunity within reach for millions. That’s why since taking office, I have worked to strengthen, empower and rebuild our career workforce. This rule is a step toward combatting corruption and partisan interference to ensure civil servants are able to focus on the most important task at hand: delivering for the American people.”

Ah, now we’re really getting into some interesting uses of words. These are worth decoding:

“Career civil servants provide the expertise and continuity necessary for our democracy to function” is an admission that the managerial class bureaucrats staffing the managerial-administrative state are the ones really running the show (as they’re the only ones with the managerial “expertise”). And their “continuity” is a necessity for “our democracy” to function. What is the “our democracy” in this sentence? Why, the managerial state of course.

To protect “our democracy” means to shelter the managers from any “political interference” (and thus “ensure civil servants are able to focus” on their managing, “in the best interest of the American people,” defined however these experts see fit). Again, “political interference” here meaning when a democratically elected president tries to impose some measure of democratic accountability on the unelected managerial state by forcing it to respond to a “partisan” policy direction – i.e. the policy platform a majority of the public voted for.


House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Ranking Member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and House Subcommittee on Government Operations and the Federal Workforce Ranking Member Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., both applauded the rule in a statement.

“The president’s job under the Constitution is to take care that all the laws of the people are ‘faithfully executed,’ not demolished at the whim of a despot,” Raskin said. “A nonpartisan civil service is essential to governmental effectiveness and fairness because who you vote for should never affect your rightful access to government benefits and services. This regulation will work to protect a civil service that implements the laws of the people and protects the rights and benefits of the people against partisan manipulation.”

Mfume said he was pleased the final regulation was adopted, “Civil servants are the nucleus of our federal workforce and provide the continuity needed to keep our government operating efficiently,” he said. “I applaud the Office of Personnel Management for working with my congressional colleagues and me on this rule, because hardworking public servants deserve to be protected from the volatility of electoral politics.”

“Who you vote for should never affect your rightful access to government benefits and services.” So there you have it, pretty much in black and white: who you vote for should never affect the operation of the government (says the guy in Congress in charge of government “accountability”).

In particular your political choices must never be allowed to disrupt the “benefits and services” the managerial state redistributes from you to dole out to its various long-suffering client groups (like poor migrants, viral gain-of-function researchers, “democracy” NGOs, or Lockheed Martin), which are their sacred right under the Constitution. That would be “partisan manipulation” of our system, which must be “protected from the volatility of electoral politics.”

As for a “nonpartisan civil service,” there is of course no such beast. Naturally the employees of the administrative state are political actors – a fact concealed only by their almost total unity in terms of class and ideology, and therefore their seamless integration into the unitary party-state of the managerial regime. But the existence of such a noble nonpartisan creature is one of the great myths of 20th century liberalism that continues to live on because it is integral to the self-conception of the managerial class.

As I’ve described before, in the liberal-progressive vision, the decedents of Hegel’s “Universal Class” of enlightened civil servants governs always through purely the application of universal reason, and hence their decisions cannot ever be “partisan” or indeed even “political” at all – instead, like the leadership of a Communist party-state, they can only ever be “scientifically correct” or, in extremis, innocently misinformed. It is assumed that all right-thinking, rational people would necessarily make the same policy choices given the same information. Government is a matter of scientific management, while “politics” is something different, dirty, and dishonest, engaged in only by reactionary forces and their “low-information voters” outside the administrative machine.

We can see then, in this little tussle over “Schedule F,” a much deeper political battle. And it is far more consequential than might be assumed. This is really a struggle over who rules – i.e. the genuinely political. Which means it is ultimately a struggle over the whole structure of our system of government: are we to continue living under a “depoliticized” managerial regime, or could we see the reemergence of a more democratic republic?

I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. But at least this little furor has revealed that the managerial state does in fact seem to be genuinely afraid of being hit where it would actually hurt, should anyone with enough political will to do so ever to come along...


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