While there are dedicated public servants toiling in the federal government, there are also all too many who do not do their jobs. In the private sector, these loafers would receive pink slips.
That is not what happens in government, where it is notoriously difficult to fire an underperforming federal employee. A bill that is wending its way through the House aims to make it easier to do this.
The basic idea is to make a new employee's probationary period two years rather than one.
The probationary period is the narrow, one-year period after new employees are hired. During this period, federal managers can fire employees without going through a lengthy bureaucratic process.
This period isn’t necessary in the private sector, where businesses are free to dismiss employees at any time if they are not adequately performing their jobs.
In the federal government, though, it’s almost impossible to fire an employee after the one-year probationary period because the process of doing so is incredibly burdensome.
On average, it takes a year and a half to fire a federal employee—and it would be even higher if federal employers actually tried to fire more of their underperforming employees. Having learned from experience, most federal managers only attempt to dismiss employees in cases of extreme misconduct or for particularly egregious offenses.
Not surprisingly, the layoff and discharge rate for federal employees is only one-third that of the private sector.
Doubling the probationary period from one year to two years for most newly hired federal employees—including senior executive service employees—will give federal managers more time to assess whether new employees can perform their jobs well enough to stay on the payroll.
Of course, not all dismissible offenses occur within the first two years of employment. But adding an additional year to the probationary period would mark a significant improvement over the status quo and would help weed out the least productive federal employees.
Weeding out unproductive employees would give us a better workforce and likely save the taxpayer a lot of money. But a question arises: why only two years?
Most people in the private sector are, in effect, on probation their entire working lives. They perform or they do not remain with a company. Why should government employees be any different?