Donald Trump’s most memorable line is “You’re fired!” While terminations happen every day in the private sector, they rarely happens in the public sector. But there is a move afoot to change that.
Congress is moving agency by agency to enact legislation to speed up the firing process for federal employees or strengthen penalties such as limiting pay and bonuses. Their first and biggest targets are the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense, the two largest agencies which together employ half of all federal workers. Added to that is the IRS. If there are two agencies that need Congress to be tough on them, the VA and the IRS are them.
In the Senate, legislation was approved allowing the VA to revoke bonuses paid to staffers involved in the heart-breaking scandal resulting in the deaths of many servicemen. Another bill would reduce appeal rights for fired or demoted VA employees. Similar legislation was approved in the House recently as well although it would apparently apply only to VA senior executives.
Tightening on IRS workers came attached to an approved budget by a Senate committee. The IRS will no longer be able to rehire fired employees unless they pass a conduct and tax compliance review.
The Washington Post has more:
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved on Wednesday a bill allowing the VA to revoke bonuses paid to staffers involved in that scandal. This would apply to employees who “contributed to the purposeful omission” of veterans on electronic wait lists and to supervisors who knew or “reasonably should have known” about the omissions. Employees would be able to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). The independent Office of Special Council would have to give permission before whistleblowers could be fired or demoted.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents most VA staffers, said the bill would leave “managers with too much discretion and the potential for abusive bonus practices.” But the argument made by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), when she introduced the bill with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), found more support. “It’s outrageous,” Ayotte said, “that VA employees who deliberately manipulated wait lists received bonus pay at taxpayers’ expense.”
One more thing – the bill would make it easier to fire most VA employees by stretching their probationary period from one year to 18 months.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved similar legislation last week and a measure applying only to VA senior executives was adopted last year with a bipartisan majority.
Like the VA, the IRS has had more than its share of scandal. Now the agency and its employees are paying the price.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $10.5 billion IRS budget for fiscal year 2016, $470 million less than this year. The legislation prohibits, according to a committee statement, “funds for bonuses or to rehire former employees unless employee conduct and tax compliance is given consideration.”
These moves also enjoy bipartisan support – particularly the efforts to punish bad behavior among VA employees. As good faith efforts, these bills probably don’t go far enough but it’s farther than we’ve gone so far to deal with misconduct among federal workers.
When scandals break, agency heads such as Katherine Archuleta, formerly of OPM, may be forced to step down and they should. However, misconduct, competence, lack of productivity, and defiance at lower levels often get overlooked. There is sometimes even a culture perpetuated throughout these agencies that celebrates these behaviors. How many times have we reported about federal workers sleeping on the job, moonlighting on the clock, watching porn, and ripping off their employers of cash for lavish hotel stays?
Often a change in leadership appeases the press and public enough to allow the story to die down, but the behaviors continue under new leadership. It’s no wonder Americans don’t hold public service in high esteem. Many –not all- of the workers know they have the kind of job security that private sector workers only dream of and they abuse it at our expense. Perhaps these measures are a first and very preliminary step in curbing that I-can-get-away-with-anything mindset that plagues public service. At minimum it can incrementally start to chip away at the size of government, which is too big to be efficient and too bureaucratic to be effective.