Mainstream media outlets are ignoring the Christian nationalism behind the push to destroy the federal civil service

“Schedule F” is a late-Trump-era policy that could potentially give a conservative president the ability to fire 20,000 career staffers

Mainstream media outlets are ignoring Christian nationalism’s central role in a new conservative operation to ensure that a future Republican president implements “Schedule F,” a radical plan to eliminate job protections for federal workers who don’t share an extreme, right-wing ideology. 

If successful, the effort could convert up to 20,000 career federal staff positions into political appointments, which usually top out at around 4,000, effectively gutting agencies of experts with decades of institutional knowledge. The order could theoretically expand to make hundreds of thousands of federal workers with union protections into at-will employees. That kind of “rightward move on the federal civil service is unheard of among Western democracies, and has only really reappeared as a policy goal in states with recent authoritarian backsliding, such as Brazil under Jair Bolsonaro or Viktor Orban’s Hungary,” according to GovExec.    

The man behind the push to make Schedule F a fait accompli under the next Republican president is Russ Vought, a Christian nationalist and the founder of MAGA-aligned think tank the Center for Renewing America. Vought served as head of the Office of Management and Budget under former President Donald Trump, and oversaw a brief rollout of Schedule F in the final weeks of the administration. 

As Media Matters has previously reported, Vought explicitly wants to draft an “army” of conservative activists with a “Biblical worldview” to staff the federal bureaucracy under the next Republican administration. Last September, Vought agreed with Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk’s suggestion that there should be “ideological purity tests” to serve in the federal workforce, a position Trump has now adopted as well. Vought also advocated for changes to congressional rules to target individual civil servants, potentially removing their funding or firing them, further demonstrating his desire to purge career staffers who don’t share his views. He is also advising House Republicans in the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations, hoping to use the threat of default to slash funding for anti-poverty programs and add new work requirements to Medicaid.   

Within the last several days, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NBC News each covered aspects of this behind-the-scenes campaign, but omitted crucial details about Vought’s extreme ideology and the stakes of this looming fight. Although all three stories provided some valuable insights into Vought’s efforts, none included his open embrace of Christian nationalism in their coverage. 

On April 20, the Times wrote about conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation’s efforts to create a massive database of potential applicants to staff the next Republican-led executive branch, dubbed Project 2025. Vought’s think tank is one of Heritage’s partners, and he’s mentioned although not quoted at the end of the piece. (Vought was previously vice president at Heritage Action for America, the Heritage Foundation’s advocacy arm.)

The Times’ headline and subhead significantly downplayed the ambitions animating Project 2025.

Heritage Foundation Makes Plans to Staff Next G.O.P. Administration No matter the Republican, the effort has set a goal of up to 20,000 potential officials in a database akin to a right-wing LinkedIn.

Citation From the New York Times, published April 20, 2023

Like the subheading, the body of the story analogizes the effort to a “right-wing LinkedIn,” and focuses on the difficulties of creating a single database that could satisfy the various potential Republican primary winners.

To the Times’ credit, the story eventually lays out the stakes of Schedule F, though not until the 11th and subsequent paragraphs.

Typically, a new president is allowed to replace around 4,000 “political appointees” — a revolving layer that sits atop the federal work force. Below the political layer lies a long-term work force of more than two million, who have strong employment protections meant to make it harder for a new president of a different political party to fire them. These protections, enshrined in law, established a civil service that is supposed to be apolitical — with federal officials accumulating subject matter and institutional expertise over long careers in the service of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Mr. Trump wants to demolish that career civil service — or what he pejoratively calls “the deep state.” He has privately told allies that if he gets back into power he plans to fire far more than the 4,000 government officials that presidents are typically allowed to replace. Mr. Trump’s lawyers already have the legal instrument in hand.

The Times then mentions Vought in its closing paragraphs, and although the piece describes him as working to “gut the federal civil service in a second Trump administration,” it omits any mention of his theocratic views.

The Washington Post, similarly, offered some valuable contributions in its recent coverage of Trump and Vought’s emerging scheme. The Post’s April 21 headline warns of Trump’s “authoritarian vision for second term,” clearly foregrounding the gravity of the situation in a way the Times’ headline failed to do.

The piece also includes criticism from good government experts on the dangers of Schedule F, though it doesn’t mention that term specifically.

Some of Trump’s proposals for overhauling the merit-based civil service would require congressional action. The result could be to undermine the ability of professional public servants to reliably deliver government services without political interference, warned Max Stier, chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit that supports federal workforce development.

“He is proposing changes that would create the world that he is objecting to,” Stier said. “It does have real-time consequences in terms of undermining public trust in our government. That’s a real problem because trust in government is a core part of our democracy.”

The article quotes Vought and mentions CRA, but, like the Times’ piece, doesn’t include mention of his Christian nationalist beliefs. Instead, readers learn about Vought’s sense of his own centrality in the larger movement.

“I guarantee the stuff we’re putting forward is not going to get thrown in the trash,” said Vought, who contributed the transition project’s chapter on exercising authority through the Executive Office of the President, akin to a playbook for a White House chief of staff. Some of Vought’s ideas have found their way into Trump’s proposals, such as a recent announcement on bringing independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission under White House supervision.

“There’s a glove of power needed to beat back the administrative state or deep state,” he said, “and if you’re not willing to put your hand in that glove you will fail, regardless of how much credibility you have with the base.”

The piece has much to recommend it as a big-picture overview of Trump’s goals for a second term, but readers would immensely benefit from a clearer understanding of Vought’s ideology, not just his proximity to power.

Like the Times and the Post, NBC’s coverage of this topic had some strong aspects to it. Both the headline and the subheading of NBC’s April 26 piece makes clear that this is a labor protection story in addition to a story about overseeing policy.

Trump zeroes in on a key target of his 'retribution' agenda: Government workers The former president’s plan to radically change the civil service is causing "anxiety" for career officials, in no small part because it is becoming "basically doctrine" on the right.

Citation From, published April 26, 2023

NBC also quotes Max Stier, the good government expert cited by the Post. But Vought is the centerpiece.

“I think Schedule F is basically doctrine now on the right,” said Russ Vought, an architect of Schedule F when he was Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. “So I think one that sits in that position does not have an ability to not do this, not unlike any other governing philosophy” widely embraced by conservatives.

“Schedule F is getting to the point where I cannot see anyone who runs on the Republican side who doesn’t put this into play,” Vought, the president of the Center for Renewing America, a right-wing think tank, continued.

Vought’s analysis may very well be accurate, which makes it all the more important for readers to understand his overt ideology and stated goals. Instead, all of the relevant context is outsourced to Stier, and Vought’s Christian nationalism again went unmentioned.

Although Vought speaks of reining in the “woke and weaponized” bureaucracy, the reality is that his goal is to unleash the power of the federal government against his enemies. Christian nationalism is incompatible with secular, multicultural democracy, and any coverage of Schedule F needs to make that clear.