Senate advances Grassley bill limiting administrative leave for federal workers

posted at 9:21 am on February 11, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

We’ve spent plenty of time here recently highlighting how difficult it is to fire incompetent or even criminal federal workers (particularly in the VA and the IRS) after they are identified. One of the typical routines which thwart efforts at accountability is the practice of putting workers on administrative leave (almost always with full pay and benefits) while the case is investigated and their union representatives fight tooth and nail to prevent their dismissal. In some cases, workers have remained in this permanent vacation status for years on end.

While I’m not getting my hopes up yet, the Senate moved this week to advance a bill which might finally rein in this process. (Government Executive)

A Senate panel on Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill that would strictly limit the ability of federal agencies to put employees on extended paid administrative leave while they are being investigated — an attempt to crack down on a practice that cost the government $3.1 billion from 2011 through 2013 alone.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee reported out S. 2450, along with several others bills, during a Wednesday markup. The 2016 Administrative Leave Act defines administrative leave as separate from other forms of paid leave or excused absence and limits its use to five consecutive days at a time.

I’m not sure how much real world effect this would have because the legislation also creates two new categories of leave for workers who wind up in such circumstances – investigative leave and notice leave. Thus far details are scarce as to what these actually mean, but presumably they may carry a bit more stigma while still allowing them to stay home on full pay. If nothing else, though, it might allow easier tracking of the problem in the future and provide more transparency to the taxpayers.

But what if this change really ushered some workers straight off the payroll? Five days as opposed to months or years on administrative leave would certainly represent a paradigm shift in how we handle disciplinary cases, but they’re going to have to get past the unions to manage this. And you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be screaming bloody murder the entire way. But let’s say for a moment that this bill somehow makes it through both chambers of Congress and gets a signature from the President. Will it really change anything? One would assume that under this new legislation, assuming they don’t shift into one of the new categories, after five days of administrative leave the employee would either be terminated or moved to some form of unpaid leave.

Nothing in this proposal seems to address the problem of The Merit Systems Protection Board, which we recently discussed. What good will a law do with the board standing in the way like a bridge troll? Let’s say you are caught sleeping on the job, downloading porn on your government computer or mainlining some heroin in the bathroom. Being a federal employee, of course you won’t be fired, but placed on administrative leave. If this law limits it to five days but your case is still under review, you are terminated or moved into some unpaid status. But then the board simply overrules the decision as they did in three high profile cases already this year.

What then? Will S. 2450 do anything to counter or somehow limit the power of the MSPB? Color me dubious.

ChuckGrassley


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Comments

Get rid of the unions and change the status of ALL federal employees to “at-will”. Meaning they can be FIRED at a moment’s notice. No appeals, no process.

ConstantineXI on February 11, 2016 at 9:23 AM

…veto time!

JugEarsButtHurt on February 11, 2016 at 9:25 AM

OMG! Does this mean that the Senate GOP is finally getting some conservative features?

platypus on February 11, 2016 at 9:25 AM

while the case is investigated and their union representatives fight tooth and nail to prevent their dismissal.

Most government employees are not unionized. I get tired of seeing this bit of misinformation thrown around. It only encourages those, like ConstantineXI, who clearly hate all government workers and has some stupid ideas about the “gravy train” government employees enjoy.

Happy Nomad on February 11, 2016 at 9:30 AM

OMG! Does this mean that the Senate GOP is finally getting some conservative features?

It’s an election year. I assume they figure they can only piss us off just so much so we might get a few bones tossed our way. Hey… I’ll take it if it happens.

Jazz Shaw on February 11, 2016 at 9:32 AM

Most government employees are not unionized. I get tired of seeing this bit of misinformation thrown around. It only encourages those, like ConstantineXI, who clearly hate all government workers and has some stupid ideas about the “gravy train” government employees enjoy.

Happy Nomad on February 11, 2016 at 9:30 AM

Whoa. I’m not one of your many haters admirers but even I gotta call BS on this one. Even at the local and state levels, most are unionized. And the Fed workforce is heavily so.

Bitter Clinger on February 11, 2016 at 9:33 AM

NO – not all are unionized – but the practices begin to co-mingle and the review board sure seems to act like a union in the most serious cases.

Govt employee unions are wrong. The next president should eliminate them all.

Then there needs to be some realistic reform of this review board.

Oh – and Lerner still needs to be in jail along with more VA executives.

Zomcon JEM on February 11, 2016 at 9:35 AM

It’s an election year. I assume they figure they can only piss us off just so much so we might get a few bones tossed our way. Hey… I’ll take it if it happens.

Jazz Shaw on February 11, 2016 at 9:32 AM

Don’t forget that they know with Obama anything like this they pass gets vetoed anyway.

Moving legislation like this only counts when there is a President who will sign it…

ConstantineXI on February 11, 2016 at 9:36 AM

Less than a third of federal workers are union members.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 9:36 AM

It’s an election year. I assume they figure they can only piss us off just so much so we might get a few bones tossed our way. Hey… I’ll take it if it happens.

Jazz Shaw on February 11, 2016 at 9:32 AM

Election year theater. As you point out the bill provides the avenues needed to make sure nothing really change

s except the words they use.

Titanic. Deck Chairs. Re-arrange.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on February 11, 2016 at 9:40 AM

Kabuki theater. All for naught.

vnvet on February 11, 2016 at 9:40 AM

Toss out the military and management positions, what percentage do you get?

animal02 on February 11, 2016 at 9:43 AM

Military personnel are not considered to be federal workers for the purpose of determining the percentage of unionized members. They are in a completely separate organizational/administrative structure.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 9:47 AM

I don’t know about the union status of “most” government workers. In my past at various times, I’ve had five government jobs, both state and federal, and none have been union jobs. Many government employees are in union jobs, but some because they have no choice in the matter (other than to quit, of course).

acasilaco on February 11, 2016 at 9:48 AM

Lets change a few facts and see how it washes.

Government employees who are accused of some wrong-doing are put in study hall until their case is resolved. Sometimes for years, without “trial”.

People who are arrested must be arraigned in what…24-48 hours or released from custody. This is called “due process” and a “quick and speedy trial”. Should the government fail in this regard, a lawsuit for civil right violations will be filed.

I say force the government to apply due process and the requirement for a “quick and speedy trial” to its own criminals.

BobMbx on February 11, 2016 at 9:49 AM

It’s good that they would be, finally, working for a living….

/sarc

Mcguyver on February 11, 2016 at 9:52 AM

Glad to see their working on something vitally important to the future survival of our Country. LOfingL…

Indiana Jim on February 11, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Being a federal employee, of course you won’t be fired, but placed on administrative leave.

This is the only thing that needs to be changed.

leftamark on February 11, 2016 at 10:01 AM

It should be extremely hard to HIRE a federal employee.

It should be extremely easy to get rid of one.

ConstantineXI on February 11, 2016 at 10:02 AM

Less than a third of federal workers are union members.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 9:36 AM

That’s still one-third too many.

Bat Chain Puller on February 11, 2016 at 10:05 AM

Federal employees can be fired. Just need the right documentation and to follow an established process. Doesn’t happen overnight but it can happen.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 10:05 AM

What is the next GOP stunt? Are they going to try to pass bills to reverse all the crap they gave BO in the latest CR? I really hate these lying sacks of s%=÷?

David in ATL on February 11, 2016 at 10:05 AM

I don’t believe in unions for federal employees but they don’t bargain wages, or benefits or call a strike. The most I’ve seen them do is to measure cubicles and tell management they can’t move an employee to a smaller cube than they’re already occupying.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 10:07 AM

about the “gravy train” government employees enjoy.

Happy Nomad on February 11, 2016 at 9:30 AM

You don’t have to have been around too long to have seen multiple studies showing fed workers get paid much more for the same job than private sector workers do. Same for bennies and retirement.

Free Indeed on February 11, 2016 at 10:11 AM

You don’t have to have been around too long to have seen multiple studies showing fed workers get paid much more for the same job than private sector workers do. Same for bennies and retirement.

Free Indeed on February 11, 2016 at 10:11 AM

And it doesn’t take a common core math “genius” to know why that is unsustainable…

ConstantineXI on February 11, 2016 at 10:22 AM

We’ve spent plenty of time here recently highlighting how difficult it is to fire incompetent or even criminal federal workers (particularly in the VA and the IRS) after they are identified. One of the typical routines which thwart efforts at accountability is the practice of putting workers on administrative leave (almost always with full pay and benefits) while the case is investigated and their union representatives fight tooth and nail to prevent their dismissal. In some cases, workers have remained in this permanent vacation status for years on end.

So right there is where you stumbled on the answer as to why it is difficult to remove federal employees from service: unions.

Federal agencies have their own policies for terminating employees, so even non-bargaining unit employees have some form of due process, but it is easier to remove them. Unionized employees have more protections, so it is a lengthy process to remove them for performance or conduct related issues.

Get rid of the unions and change the status of ALL federal employees to “at-will”. Meaning they can be FIRED at a moment’s notice. No appeals, no process.

ConstantineXI on February 11, 2016 at 9:23 AM

This is unrealistic.

I’ve worked in labor and employee relations for a bit. I used to be strongly opposed to unions. My overall opinion is still that they tend to protect poorly performing employees. That said, my opinion has changed somewhat; I do see the utility in having unions to protect employees, because real life is what it is, meaning that things do not occur in absolutes. Federal union don’t function exclusively to protect bad employees, they do also protect employees from genuine misconduct on the part of management.

For example, I’ve seen management officials want to fire or remove employees explicitly because they were disabled, or simply because “I just don’t like that person”, rather than for performance or conduct issues. In those situations, I’ve seen the unions step in and genuinely protect someone who needed it.

Vyce on February 11, 2016 at 10:24 AM

For example, I’ve seen management officials want to fire or remove employees explicitly because they were disabled, or simply because “I just don’t like that person”, rather than for performance or conduct issues. In those situations, I’ve seen the unions step in and genuinely protect someone who needed it.

Exactly and it can be much worse when you’re dealing with politics. New political appointee wants “his” people in and all of a sudden he discovers a lot of “problem” employees.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 10:40 AM

How about what we, in the private sector refer to as ‘FIRING’?
Can we add that to the civil service management armamentarium?

No. Thought not.

orangemtl on February 11, 2016 at 11:57 AM

The desire to protect employees from political firings is what the civil service was put in to prevent. It has outlived its usefulness in its present form, as the bureaucracy has now captured the govt.

I have zero problems with a review board, but its rules must be updated. And by the way – if I was president, there are a ton of employees in the EPA who need to be fired because they would do their daily duties in a manner at odds with my wishes. The govt continually veers left because its easy to sing bromides as the leftists do, without consideration for the real world. And lots of those folks reside in the bowels of agencies right below the political appointment level, and they drive silly clean water rules, and fallacies about CO2 as a pollutant, and more. Until you can clean house, you’re screwed. It is now very hard to start a business, because of federal and state regulations. And small businesses drive employment, which is why we have had essentially a jobless recovery.

They need the real world to get a little closer – more often.

Zomcon JEM on February 11, 2016 at 12:00 PM

OMG! Does this mean that the Senate GOP is finally getting some conservative features?

platypus on February 11, 2016 at 9:25 AM

NO !

pilsener on February 11, 2016 at 12:21 PM

Just a way to muddy the waters of what is going on. Once on the government dole, always on the government dole.

TerryW on February 11, 2016 at 12:23 PM

For example, I’ve seen management officials want to fire or remove employees explicitly because they were disabled, or simply because “I just don’t like that person”, rather than for performance or conduct issues. In those situations, I’ve seen the unions step in and genuinely protect someone who needed it.

Vyce on February 11, 2016 at 10:24 AM

And yet it is easy enough to stop that kind of nonsense without the need for any unions.

I have stated it before and i will state it here again. Unions are long past the time when they stood for the little guy and need to be gone. I live in a right to work state,no unions here (at least not very many) and there are rules built in which prevent the very thing you claim we still need unions for.

I managed a restaurant my hubby co manages a gas station , and we have both had employees in the past we would have loved to get rid of but couldn’t because of those built in rules. Your argument is a wash love.

katee bayer on February 11, 2016 at 12:51 PM

Federal employees can be fired. Just need the right documentation and to follow an established process. Doesn’t happen overnight but it can happen.

NoDonkey on February 11, 2016 at 10:05 AM

Does the process have a labeled step called “at this point magic happens.” I noticed that the pictures of the government employees that were placed on administrative leave, then paid for doing nothing, were of extremely overweight (visualize obese) 60 year old women. Do you suppose they were too fat to do their jobs? Why doesn’t GEICO (Government Employees Insurance Company) have women like this in their advertisements?

Old Country Boy on February 11, 2016 at 6:19 PM

Government worker unions breed corruption through the following process:

1. Politicians decide Government workforce benefits.
2. Unions collect dues (which come from taxpayer dollars)
3. Unions purchase influence with the politicians with the dues collected
3. Politicians sweeten the pay, benefits, pensions, etc. for government workers
4. Gov’t worker pay goes up, politicians collect more dues money.
4. Rinse and repeat
5. Gov’t workers and politicians win, the taxpayers lose big time.

This form of extortion is why cities and states all over the country are going bankrupt, and is why the streets in high-tax San Diego (where I live) have potholes everywhere you go. There is no money available to fix them. Government worker unions should NOT be allowed to make contributions to politicians.

dcavinated on February 11, 2016 at 6:26 PM

For show only. DOA otherwise.

Carnac on February 11, 2016 at 7:30 PM

I’ve worked in labor and employee relations for a bit. I used to be strongly opposed to unions. My overall opinion is still that they tend to protect poorly performing employees. That said, my opinion has changed somewhat; I do see the utility in having unions to protect employees, because real life is what it is, meaning that things do not occur in absolutes. Federal union don’t function exclusively to protect bad employees, they do also protect employees from genuine misconduct on the part of management.

Vyce on February 11, 2016 at 10:24 AM

From the outside, it looks like the unions and review boards seem incapable of distinguishing the two classes.
No one would be complaining if they protections operated as they are supposed to; the objections are to the (blatant and egregious) cases where the employee, by any rational test, should be discharged.

AesopFan on February 11, 2016 at 9:40 PM

What I see in Rubio and Grayson is the same raw and unconcealed opportunism that I find detestable in politicians. It is all about their personal fortunes and not about public service.

I stand by my comparison.

Happy Nomad on February 12, 2016 at 9:34 AM

First off, Grayson is not being accused of opportunism. Best described, the allegations are that he’s a crook and a hypocrite.

On the charge of opportunism about Rubio….. if you’re going to find him guilty (fair enough), then pretty much every politician in this country is guilty.

Find me the politician who hasn’t placed expediency above principle.

AmerigoChattin on February 12, 2016 at 9:45 AM