Trade-Off or Advantage? Civil Service Protections, Senior Executive Service, and the Red Tape to Go Along with Firing Ineffective Federal Workers
Monday, September 2, 2013 • 8:20am
Most Civil Service employees perform with temperament and virtue. Nevertheless, there is still widespread criticism of Federal government performance. The public expects that there are too many government workers, that they are underworked, overpaid, and insulated from the consequences of incompetence. Civil Service reform today is interested in strengthening the protection of legitimate employee rights, providing incentives and opportunities for managers to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of the Federal Government, reducing the red tape and costly delays in the present personnel system, promoting equal employment opportunities, improving labor-management relations. But is federal red tape tying up innovative job programs? Is At Will Employment Good or bad? These are some of the questions that we need to be asking as we head into 2014. The old saying goes that the devil lies in the details we bring out. But what should we consider to be more correct when details in federal government are often so absent of a contract that even employers cannot find the good reason or bad reason or not reason at all so long as it is not an unlawful reason. Should we be whittling away at this idea of at-will employment or welcoming in a new judge, jury and jury room?
Austere budget environments appear to have an unexpected consequence. More federal bosses are cracking down on poor performers. Which is why we need to look to enhancing the role of the US Office of Personnel Management. But what does comprehensive evaluation of the personnel management operations of Title 5 and Title 5-exempt agencies mean? Title 5 guidelines and other provide increased flexibility to tailor their personnel systems to their unique needs. The overriding intent of agency exemptions then being to enhance agency personnel operations for Office of Personnel Management. Therefore, I think it is important to understand that there is not authority to establish hybrid work schedules that borrow selectively from the authority for flexible work schedules and the authority for compressed work schedules in an effort to create a hybrid work schedule program providing unauthorized benefits for employees or agencies. Every extra step, regulation, or requirement where the government imposes a cost on the economy disrupts and distracts small business owners from growing their business. The last thing the economy needs right now are more roadblocks.
I believe that civil service protections provide an important buffer against political recriminations. In the past, unfortunately, political reasons played a large role in who got hired and fired in the federal government. A common misconception is that federal, state and local government employees cannot be fired from their jobs despite poor performance or misconduct. We are at no shortage of governmental flaws and failures talk about, whether addressing the federal government or state and local governments.
A critical factor in determining whether Federal workforce is succeeding or failing is the ability of the senior managers who run them. So is Civil Service a constraint to growth? Weak civil service performance is a major binding constraint to economic growth. By U.S. standards, the public sector remuneration is not correspondingly low. And I believe my illustration proves that below.
FIG. 1. FEDERAL CONSTRAINT MODEL
Furloughs are just one tactic that agencies are using to close the gap caused by sequester-related budget cuts. In some instances, they recalibrated their original plans. There is a myth of efficiency of more disciplined use of resources equaling federal department wide cuts with tens of billions in FY2013-FY2017. Federal agencies’ ability to be flexible demonstrates that there is plenty of waste and fat in the budget that can be cut before cutting vital services or furloughing employees. For example, in 2012 President Obama issues an order settling a default raise at 0.5 percent increase as he had proposed earlier in the year. As it turned out, that raise never was paid, because the salary rate freeze was kept in place through the calendar year under terms of a later measure. As of March 2013, federal employees will see a half-percent to one percent pay increase, marking the end of a pay freeze that has been in place since late 2010.
Government agencies are faced with increasing performance scrutiny and reporting requirements. At the same time, the enhancement of agency information security solutions often contends with workforce and funding source constraints. In turn, escalating urgency to increase security effectiveness, agencies are redefining priorities, strategies and methodologies as they seek to strengthen security postures, comply with security requirements and policies, and improve capabilities, all while reducing costs. While the budget process provides Congress with one means of controlling federal spending, the debt limit may provide a different sort of leverage that is not redundant. For example, the Committees on appropriations has special responsibilities regarding discretionary spending and authorizing committees that are generally responsible for mandatory program spending decisions, while Committees on the Budget are tasked with drafting an overall budgetary framework that specifies aggregate levels for federal sending and taxation. While those committees often incorporate views of other committees and members, measures involving the debt limit often provide individual Members not belonging to those committees with a separate instrument to influence federal fiscal policy. If public management does matter, and if effective public management is contingent on the manager and situation then frontline supervisors are clearly important operators at an agency’s operational level. Yes, the Performance Management Plans of most agencies contain additional requirements. For example, OPM requires its supervisors to document discussions they have with the employee concerning inadequate performance and to also document the measures taken by the supervisor to assist the employee in improving performance. And while other agencies require that Performance Improvement Plans (PIP’s) be provided to employees who are given an opportunity to demonstrate acceptable performance this is a slippery slope. For example, in processing a PIP, a federal agency typically will begin by placing that employee on a Performance Appraisal Period (PAP). The Performance Appraisal Period must allow that employee a true opportunity to show his or her capabilities in the position. But, what managers are finding is that when you have to prepare a PIP which puts in writing what elements are making the performance unacceptable, how performance is unacceptable, how performance is unacceptable and what the employee must do to remain in the position this is harder than it looks. Part of the misunderstanding lies in a miscalculation that the federal government has been making in determining labor and industry funding. We are seeing a full complement of deficiencies. Should we find fault with Labor and Industry’s data systems saying that the integrity of the systems cannot be verified and as a result, reported being generated from a commonwealth cannot be verified? That has yet to be settled.
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