CBS: Just how hard is it to fire a federal gov’t employee?

posted at 1:31 pm on March 2, 2015 by Ed Morrissey

Thanks to the litigious nature of American culture, employers in the private sector have a tough time firing people for poor performance. Misconduct, especially that caught in the act, generally is an exception to that trend. CBS News discovers that’s not the case in the federal civil-service system, where chronic bad behavior and even spending half the day watching Internet porn doesn’t qualify for immediate termination. Instead, it starts a process that can last as long as two years, and often just means that managers shrug off bad behavior and bad performance … even when the employee presents a threat to others:

A CBS News investigation looks at how hard it is for the U.S. government to discipline or fire employees who behave badly. With examples ranging from extravagant to explicit, civil service rules meant to protect public workers from political pressure may be backfiring, and costing you big, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), red tape is preventing the removal of a top level employee accused of viewing porn two to six hours a day while at work, since 2010. Even though investigators found 7,000 pornographic files on his computer and even caught him watching porn, he remains on the payroll.

At a Congressional hearing, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy was asked why she hadn’t fired the employee and said, “I actually have to work through the administrative process, as you know.”

The administrative process meant to prevent against politically motivated firings is the civil servant protection system. The rules give employees the right to appeal a termination, a process that can take up two years.

The civil service system was designed to end the spoils system that preceded it in federal government. Prior to the civil-service regulations, every federal government job was a political appointment, a system which allowed for rampant corruption and incompetence, as well as majority-party featherbedding. The civil-service system created a difference between political appointees and careerists; the latter would be protected from political influence, while the former could come and go at the president’s pleasure … although Democrats tried to turn even their dismissal into a scandal when George Bush requested resignations from several US Attorneys in the second term of his presidency.

Initially, at least, the civil-service reform worked. The federal government got more professional and competent, while political featherbedding got greatly reduced. However, the reform has clearly gone out of control, and now we have a situation where accountability for performance has all but disappeared. At least under the spoils system, voters could hold the majority party accountable for bad behavior by putting another party in charge and have them clear out the deadwood. These days, the deadwood get to stick around for years while watching porn on taxpayer time. (It’s worth noting that this might be a better use of time than actually doing EPA work, which more often entails interfering with the private sector on behalf of environmental extremists, especially in this administration.) The growth of power within public-employee unions has made this trend even worse.

What’s the solution? Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, wants to make some common-sense changes to the civil-service system, but that may not be enough without some real reform of PEUs at the federal level as well. We need to find a system somewhere between the spoils and the civil service, and mostly we need to significantly reduce the size and scope of the federal government so that we have a lot less to police at any one time. Start with right-to-work legislation at the federal level and the end of mandatory dues payments [see update below], and the PEUs will have a lot less cash with which to promote the expansion of federal government through political support of Democrats. That would be one big step, and we’ve already seen it work in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan.

Update: One Twitter follower says that federal PEUs do not get mandatory dues payments through the paychecks of their workers. I’ll see if I can check that, but wanted to note the dispute.


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Comments

One way or another, EPA employees spend their day watching people getting screwed.

BobMbx on March 2, 2015 at 1:35 PM

At the working level…GS-nothing up to GS-12?

Do they have a union?

At the SES grades?

Do they have a [D] or an [R] after their name?

To whom have they contributed in local and national elections?

What gender? Race? Disadvantaged socio-economic class?

coldwarrior on March 2, 2015 at 1:35 PM

My poor Dad was a manager at the Dept of Labor in the late ’70s. Poor dude couldn’t fire the worst of the worst no matter how much documentation he had, how many write ups, etc. Not sure if that has changed. Sounds like it has not.

bernzright777 on March 2, 2015 at 1:38 PM

after reading how the entire civil service thing works and why it’s there=

couldn’t they make SOME catagories easier to fire. say if you can prove constant porn watching-make that an easier to fire offense.

gerrym51 on March 2, 2015 at 1:39 PM

I have a simple solution.

I have signed legislation outlawing liberalism.

The raids begin in 5 minutes.

Brian1972 on March 2, 2015 at 1:41 PM

We need to find a system somewhere between the spoils and the civil service, and mostly we need to significantly reduce the size and scope of the federal government so that we have a lot less to police at any one time. Start with right-to-work legislation at the federal level and the end of mandatory dues payments, and the PEUs will have a lot less cash with which to promote the expansion of federal government through political support of Democrats.

These are all right steps that should be taken – but unfortunately, in the current environment, there isn’t the will to really fix this.

From the Democrats, there is no interest whatsoever to reduce the power or incomes of their leading campaign contributors, the PEUs. There’s also no interest to reform civil service to undo the politicization of the civil service ranks, or the massive expansion of the federal government bureaucracy.

Of the GOPe, they’ve already also demonstrated their unwillingness to make this a hill to fight on – as they show little real interest in exercising their oversight responsibilities, reducing the size and scope of the federal bureaucracy, or taking on the PEUs in a manner via legislation similar to how Ronald Reagan took on the Air Traffic Controller’s Union. They benefit too much from a growing (in size and power) federal government and seek to protect their positions more than doing what’s needed to fix the nation.

Athos on March 2, 2015 at 1:45 PM

Firing a career civil service employee is almost as difficult and lengthy as firing a tenured teacher. Unfortunately some supervisors find it easier to shunt the slugs aside because documenting the bad behavior for one employee can become a full time job by itself. There is no time left to actually make sure the work gets done.

katiejane on March 2, 2015 at 1:46 PM

When the gov’t is full of pimps, from the top on down…

Schadenfreude on March 2, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Sadly, the only way to get rid of incompetent government employees is to promote them out of your department.

That’s way sh*t floats to the top in the public sector.

NapaConservative on March 2, 2015 at 1:50 PM

Only 7,000?

John the Libertarian on March 2, 2015 at 1:51 PM

I wonder if any of these porn watchers would be some of the “unessential” government workers that would need to be laid off in case of shutdown?

Deano1952 on March 2, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Look at urban elitist.

Schadenfreude on March 2, 2015 at 1:51 PM

The main task of any federal employee is to pay their union dues. What they do beyond that is not important.

RBMN on March 2, 2015 at 1:52 PM

Every single gov’t employee, top to bottom, should be term limited.

This, and that the DC critters can exempt themselves from the laws they shove onto their constituents are two failings of the founders.

obama and his should have been the first to be forced into obama’care’.

Schadenfreude on March 2, 2015 at 1:53 PM

If it was gay porn then the employee needs to sue for gender discrimination.

They’ll win enough to retire on.

Probably cheaper in the long run for the taxpayers.

profitsbeard on March 2, 2015 at 1:57 PM

Prior to the civil-service regulations, every federal government job was a political appointment, a system which allowed for rampant corruption and incompetence, as well as majority-party featherbedding.

Well, yeah, THAT never happens now. Thank goodness for civil service.

Shump on March 2, 2015 at 1:58 PM

Kinda makes you wish there was a candidate for president who has a track record of taking on public unions, don’t it?

PackerBronco on March 2, 2015 at 1:59 PM

Every decision by a boss is somewhat “political.” He doesn’t like your attitude, you only do the minimum…in the private world, you would be out. In government, they are afraid to even try to get rid of you.

The lady next to me spent 1.5 hrs each morning and afternoon with her kids on the phone and was highly insulted when she was told to stop using the phone for private purposes. So she left and went outside and talked for all those hours on her cell!

PattyJ on March 2, 2015 at 2:01 PM

Holy cow, 2-6 hours a day of Le Pron? What exactly is his job description? How the flaming hell does somebody have that light a work load? I ask because I’d love that job.

Surellin on March 2, 2015 at 2:03 PM

Porn… meh.

These days just call it marriage equality videos, and its “hands off my lifestyle choice, Mr. Supervisor”.

Dolce Far Niente on March 2, 2015 at 2:04 PM

Update: One Twitter follower says that federal PEUs do not get mandatory dues payments through the paychecks of their workers. I’ll see if I can check that, but wanted to note the dispute.

That is correct. Neither membership in a union nor dues collection is mandatory or automatic in the Federal system.

Johnnyreb on March 2, 2015 at 2:06 PM

Well, with two (hardworking conscientious) family workers both working for DoD, wanted to say a few things.

1) No one is more aware of this issue than those working in the DoD that aren’t deadbeats. They do thankless jobs–often 3 or 4 of them–because everyone else is incompetent.

2) In any job that requires a security clearance, I’ve heard that an easy way to ‘fire’ an employee is to catch them doing something that will revoke their security clearance. They are then ineligible for that position. (Most often reason I’ve heard: Letting someone in a secured access point because that person doesn’t have their badge.)

3) In any federal job, easiest way to fire someone is to catch them falsifying a timecard. That’s more or less an instant termination. (Speaking volumes about the federal government’s priorities, doesn’t it?)

Scott H on March 2, 2015 at 2:08 PM

That is correct. Neither membership in a union nor dues collection is mandatory or automatic in the Federal system.

Johnnyreb on March 2, 2015 at 2:06 PM

Rest assured that there are many lobbyists, and their Democrat allies, who want to change that.

Brian1972 on March 2, 2015 at 2:09 PM

At the working level…GS-nothing up to GS-12?

Do they have a union?

coldwarrior on March 2, 2015 at 1:35 PM

The GS-12s that I know are not members of a union. I would doubt that affects their civil service protection however. They could probably hire a lawyer to do for them what the union would do for a different level employee.

KW64 on March 2, 2015 at 2:11 PM

Oh, and I could check, but I don’t think my family members are forced to pay dues. They certainly wouldn’t belong to the unions.

Still, which candidate has shown the best ability to tackle these types of issues?

Scott H on March 2, 2015 at 2:15 PM

Sounds like that person is practicing free speech. And the government may not have a chilling effect on speech.

Axeman on March 2, 2015 at 2:16 PM

The civil service system was designed to end the spoils system that preceded it in federal government. Prior to the civil-service regulations, every federal government job was a political appointment, a system which allowed for rampant corruption and incompetence, as well as majority-party featherbedding. The civil-service system created a difference between political appointees and careerists; the latter would be protected from political influence, while the former could come and go at the president’s pleasure

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

I prefer to see it as the progressives forever installing their “professional bureaucrat” class to run the government regardless of who won elections.

Previous to that, gov’t work as seen as mostly a short term gig where you basically had a no show / no work job for 4 years, then went back to whatever other no show / no work gig you had.

Now the no show / no work gig is for 20 years, then you retire with full benefits.

Hardly see how that’s an improvement.

Timin203 on March 2, 2015 at 2:20 PM

Every single gov’t employee, top to bottom, should be term limited.

This, and that the DC critters can exempt themselves from the laws they shove onto their constituents are two failings of the founders.

obama and his should have been the first to be forced into obama’care’.

Schadenfreude on March 2, 2015 at 1:53 PM

Not practical. In the DOD the military move at least every three years and sometimes sooner. The civilian lifers are the real institutional memory of the facility not the so called continuity books.

KW64 on March 2, 2015 at 2:21 PM

My dh is a civilian for the DoD.

Once at his old base, high up civil service manager (GS-15, I think) was fired and escorted from the building immediately when he was discovered to have kiddie porn on his computer.

Someone needs to check those 7,000 files. All it takes is one underage…”model” and the problem is solved.

CJ on March 2, 2015 at 2:30 PM

I think KW64 and myself have very similar experiences with at least DoD. ;)

Scott H on March 2, 2015 at 2:35 PM

If I remember correctly, in VA a civil service employee had the option of not joining the union but if they got in trouble a union rep had to represent them. That must have hurt.

Cindy Munford on March 2, 2015 at 2:38 PM

The problem is there is NO line. Was the guy who got caught watching porn also pleasuring himself in the process? Not a problem. Was he making porno videos with his fellow employees during work time on work property. That’s okay too. All these government flop houses need to be closed down. I bet most of us will not even notice the absence of any services. Let’s start with the IRS.

FREEDOM4906 on March 2, 2015 at 2:40 PM

This kind of nonsense goes on all the time in the federal government. You have to pay somebody to get rid of them.

grumpyank on March 2, 2015 at 2:44 PM

Prior to the civil-service regulations, every federal government job was a political appointment, a system which allowed for rampant corruption and incompetence, as well as majority-party featherbedding.

Admittedly, it did keep the size of government down. There’s only so much political patronage you can toss out there and still have control of it. (And, yes, keeping control of it is important, since therein resides your power.)

The civilian lifers are the real institutional memory of the facility not the so called continuity books.

KW64 on March 2, 2015 at 2:21 PM

That doesn’t mean that they also aren’t the problem in many instances.

GWB on March 2, 2015 at 2:45 PM

What sucks is if a member is caught with only 1 picture, they would be prosecuted and discharged.

Sven on March 2, 2015 at 2:51 PM

How about we start the reform of the civil service by outlawing public sector unions?

The example given is just an average example of union rules.

piratesockpuppet on March 2, 2015 at 2:51 PM

GWB: Oh, they could certainly be a problem. (Although, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, post-retirement military cronyism is another.) I think KW64 is saying this because if you change the system so that DoD doesn’t have ‘lifers’, you would also need to change their system in other ways so that their institutional memory is retained.

Scott H on March 2, 2015 at 2:58 PM

you would also need to change their system in other ways so that their institutional memory is retained.

Scott H on March 2, 2015 at 2:58 PM

This memory you speak of has given us the LCS, rail guns (worthless in combat but friggin’ sexy), aluminum ships, cruisers without armor, AA missiles with half the range of its predecessors, ships that need to return to port for repairs (no parts or people trained to fix it), a decimated Army and Marine Corps, a complete lack of morale within the uniformed services, a distrustful senior leadership, acquisition rules that hamstring the warfighter into developing the items they need (body armor in Iraq?)on their own, truckloads of processes and procedures that no one understands but must be followed to the letter, etc…

The best thing that could happen to the DoD is a complete change of personnel. In some cases, the Roman process of decimation would be the best method.

BobMbx on March 2, 2015 at 3:21 PM

Why are these sites even accessible on a gov’t computer. There are ways to stop that from even happening.

Someone ask Hillary if she approves of a guy watching porn all day keeping his job!

crowhop on March 2, 2015 at 3:34 PM

Bob: I’m sorry if I don’t agree with you. It is, actually, just the opposite, in my experience. What’s happening right now is that all of the people who understand how to do things are retiring or leaving, and the people who are left just don’t know how to do things properly.

Certainly, freeing up the hiring and firing process would help here.

Scott H on March 2, 2015 at 3:35 PM

I worked for the federal govt for 16 years.

A guy who “worked” in the cubicle across the aisle would show up at 9:00 am. He’d read the newspaper, do the crossword and chat with friends until 11:30, then he’d go on a 1-1/2 hr lunch break. Arriving back at 1:00 pm (sometimes), he’d nap, surf the web or chat more with friends. Then he’d up and leave at 3:30 with everyone who flexed in at 7:00 am, including me.

Meanwhile, I’m busting my butt to get stuff done, on schedule and in budget. When the 3rd quarter came around and our supervisor needed to make sure work was done before the end of the FY, guess who’s work got reassigned to me?

I got sick of that ish and left for the private sector in 2006. The next year, deadbeat retired under the Civil Service Retirement System. The bish has a full pension until death.

GulfCoastBamaFan on March 2, 2015 at 3:39 PM

Someone ask Hillary if she approves of a guy watching porn all day keeping his job!

crowhop on March 2, 2015 at 3:34 PM

First you would have to find her, she been in deep cover for months now.

RickB on March 2, 2015 at 3:56 PM

I had another co-“worker” who used his govt issued AmEx card to withdraw cash at casinos just across the state line. He rang up hundreds, if not thousands, and blew it on slots.

When the agency began proceedings to discipline him, he screamed “RACISM!” Nothing was ever done.

As far as I know, he’s still there. a GS-12 set to retire in 2016.

I was passed over for promotion to GS-13 in 1999. The individual who got the slot was a female who had interned under me. I clearly had seniority and greater experience, but in the interests of “diversity,” they selected the woman.

I finally got my 13 in 2005, just before Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast.

GulfCoastBamaFan on March 2, 2015 at 3:58 PM

He was simply freelancing to see if any of those porn videos contained slander of Islam that might cause more embassy attacks. He deserves a raise.

JeremiahJohnson on March 2, 2015 at 4:01 PM

One of my two sons is Federal employee and was sent to a seminar on the process for firing a Federal employee. He was flabbergasted at the insanity that is required to get an employee to even be considered for dismissal. Even worse, was that most of the other management level employees there for the seminar constantly spoke of accommodations for scofflaws.

One scenario was an employee who consistently came to work late by 15 or more minutes. He had been written up twice and now was at his third write up, the question was what should be done? My son was the only person in his group that said he would write up dismissal papers. He couldn’t get any of them to understand that the employee had entered into contract that stipulated that he needed to arrive each day at a specific time as others depended on him and that by persisting in arriving late he had broken his end of the agreement. The most vocal in defending the habitual late worker was from the EPA.

He is on a ship and they had a cook who wouldn’t cook for two years. Most everyone took their tray and dumped it at nearly every meal. The whole crew complained, but it was too much hassle to get him removed so they all began to get microwaves and refrigerators for their quarters. This is your tax dollars at work.

Neitherleftorright on March 2, 2015 at 4:03 PM

Thank you, President Arthur, for reforming the major abuses of the spoils system; up yours, JFK, for signing the EO that allowed Federal government employees to unionize.

Mommys Little Darling on March 2, 2015 at 4:13 PM

The whole crew complained, but it was too much hassle to get him removed so they all began to get microwaves and refrigerators for their quarters. This is your tax dollars at work.

Neitherleftorright on March 2, 2015 at 4:03 PM

Not surprised at all.

For decades, GSA would ony buy cars with no AC and no cruise control. You can’t have govt employees riding around in “luxury.”

No, we got Ford Fairmonts that rode like 2×4’s and broke down halfway to the TDY location.

We just started renting cars…

GulfCoastBamaFan on March 2, 2015 at 4:31 PM

Maybe it’s hard to fire folks in some states or in union shops Ed, but in most of the private world, it’s two documented warnings and then they’re out, with many offenses far less severe than porn watching qualifying for immediate termination. This has been the way for a long time.

Immolate on March 2, 2015 at 5:00 PM

Simple enough in this guy’s case – just block access to porno-sites. Why aren’t all employee’s computers set up with Net Nanny or somesuch service anyway? It’s just not that hard for an admin to restrict what users on the local network can access.

whatcat on March 2, 2015 at 5:16 PM

http://www.nteu.org/tepac.aspx

smitty41 on March 2, 2015 at 5:20 PM

https://www.nteu.org/MemberBenefits/Apply.aspx

to join the union simply fill out the following form

https://www.nteu.org/Documents/NTEUForm1187NoRecruit.pdf

smitty41 on March 2, 2015 at 5:28 PM

Immolate on March 2, 2015 at 5:00 PM

The point is, that this doesn’t apply in the Federal Government. Whatever union rules there are are what apply and double so, especially now with the regime in charge. Being fired in the Federal government after the probationary period is virtually unheard of.

Neitherleftorright on March 2, 2015 at 5:53 PM

Why are these sites even accessible on a gov’t computer. There are ways to stop that from even happening.
Someone ask Hillary if she approves of a guy watching porn all day keeping his job!
crowhop on March 2, 2015 at 3:34 PM

HEY HE WAS JUST BORN THAT WAY SO STOP TRYING TO IMPOSE YOUR MORALITY!!1!!11!1!1!

–Teh Gheys

Nutstuyu on March 2, 2015 at 6:25 PM

Update: One Twitter follower says that federal PEUs do not get mandatory dues payments through the paychecks of their workers. I’ll see if I can check that, but wanted to note the dispute.

Can’t speak for all of the fed, but I don’t have to join the Local if I don’t want to. I can opt in to or opt out of paying dues at any time.

NorthernCross on March 2, 2015 at 6:57 PM

Get rid of the dumb b-tches that that do nothing.

stealthpatriot on March 2, 2015 at 11:59 PM

Good stories from real people.
In some cases, anecdotes become data.

AesopFan on March 3, 2015 at 1:58 AM

Union rep: Dude couldn’t work the keyboards kept sticking.

Younggod on March 3, 2015 at 9:01 AM

The Deepwater Horizon spill was the direct result of DoI/MMS inspectors declining to do the job they are not only required to do according to their job description, but also required to do by federal law.

That negligence of both their jobs and the law directly resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people and billions of dollars of damage.

Are any of them on trial for negligent homicide?

Did any of them get fired?

Did any of them even lose so much as a single day’s pay?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

GrumpyOldFart on March 3, 2015 at 9:53 AM