New survey data from The Partnership for Public Service found that only 23% of respondents trust the federal government.

New survey data from The Partnership for Public Service found that only 23% of respondents trust the federal government. shironosov / Getty Images

Schedule F looms over trust in government summit

New survey data from the Partnership for Public Service shows there is strong bipartisan support among the public for a nonpartisan civil service.

The vast majority of surveyed Americans oppose Donald Trump’s plans to remove job protections for thousands of civil servants, according to poll data released by a nonpartisan good government organization this week. 

“Americans expect a government that serves their needs ahead of any political interest. Rebuilding trust in government requires us to support — not weaken — our nonpartisan civil service system,” Lindsay Laferriere, a director at the Partnership for Public Service, said at an event Tuesday focused on building trust in the government. “There are many ways to improve government. The Partnership has been at this a long time and we have lots of ideas, but giving the president and his appointees more latitude to fire civil servants and hire their replacements based on political loyalty is not the answer.”

Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president, has campaigned on reviving Schedule F, a failed effort of his administration to convert tens of thousands of federal workers in “policy-related” positions out of the competitive service. This would effectively make them at-will employees. 

The Partnership’s report found that 87% of Americans surveyed — including 88% of Democrats and 87% of Republicans — agree that having a nonpartisan civil service is important to a strong democracy. 

Likewise, 95% of respondents said that civil servants should be hired and promoted based on merit rather than their political beliefs, and 72% disagreed with the idea that presidents should be able to fire “any civil servants that they choose for any reason.” 

“The concern is that [Schedule F] is viewed as sort of inside baseball [and] not relevant to people's daily lives when, in fact, it has profound significance for the quality of services and the capability of our government to protect us and make us safe,” said Max Stier, the Partnership’s president. 

Schedule F supporters have said it’s necessary to more easily remove poor performers as well as government workers who disagree with the policy decisions of their bosses. 

Along those lines, the survey data also shows that two-thirds of respondents believe there “are many civil servants who work to undermine policies they disagree with,” including 79% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats. 

The Partnership and Impact Research administered the poll from March 25 through April 1 to 800 adults nationwide. Responses were weighted based on the demographic makeup of the U.S. 

Notably, the report found that only 23% of respondents trust the federal government. In fact, trust in the federal government since 2022 declined across all demographic groups in the survey, including based on political affiliation, race and ethnicity, sex and age. 

However almost half of respondents reported that their own experiences with the federal government, such as when filing taxes or going through airport security, have been mostly positive. But just 28% agreed that was true for most Americans. 

“What was new about our findings is that when you asked about individual federal agencies, or civil servants, people had a lot more positive impressions of those folks. And those are the people that deliver services and serve the public every day,” Laferriere said. “So there seems to be a bit of a disconnect. People like the federal employees who work in government, but they don't trust government overall.”

Author Michael Lewis, who wrote a book about the federal bureaucracy under the Trump administration, argued at the event that in order to rebuild trust in the government the stories and successes of its employees must be told. He equated doing so with changing a stereotype. 

“It's very easy to cling to those stereotypes when you don't have actual personal interaction with the object of the bigotry or the stereotype. The minute you're in a foxhole with them, the minute you're in a basketball game with them, the minute you're just in a dinner with someone who you’ve been stereotyping, you realize, ‘Oh no. Stereotype wrong,’ or that it's just silly,” he said. “And it's a stereotype we need to break.”