We normally hear these stories coming out of the VA or the IRS, but it’s apparently a problem in pretty much every department of the federal government. It’s so difficult to fire employees who aren’t just under-performing, but sometimes actually engaged in illegal activity, that they frequently stay on paid administrative leave for extended periods of time. (And we’re talking about years here, not just weeks or months.) Now the Washington Post has caught on to the fact that the same plague is infecting the Department of Homeland Security.
The use and misuse of paid administrative leave in federal agencies is getting increased attention because of cases such as these at the Department of Homeland Security:
— A federal law enforcement officer was on leave for more than three years while being investigated on allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct. He was paid $455,000 in salary and benefits for not working.
— Another staffer, also on leave for more than three years, received about $340,000 while being investigated. After the lengthy inquiry, the agency determined it did not have sufficient evidence against the employee, who returned to duty.
— One employee was placed on administrative leave after exhibiting hostile behavior at work. The leave extended for more than 20 months because of a series of medical and psychiatric exams, requests for information and miscommunications regarding medical records. In March 2014, the employee was determined to be a threat to others and fired.
This isn’t actually a new story. We dug into this back in October of last year when Government Executive Magazine revealed that there were more than 100 DHS employees on paid administrative leave at any one time and some of them had been in that status for quite a while. But the length of time these administrators are racking up should really be putting taxpayers off their feed.
Perhaps more remarkable are the details of the cases the WaPo chose to highlight. First of all, if low to mid-level administrators are bringing down nearly a half million dollars in three years I’m clearly in the wrong line of work. (Of course, that’s in keeping with the fact that government workers still make considerably more – up to 78% in some cases – than their private sector counterparts.) That’s a pretty sweet deal if you can get it, particularly since you’ll probably be set for life unless you actually begin gunning down your colleagues.
But shouldn’t the taxpayers who work in the private sector also be wondering why it is that these employees who make their living off the public dime are so immune to disciplinary action? Name me one place in the regular business world where sketchy behavior can’t wind up with your being shown the door on the same day that you go off the rails. You might, in some states, be able to go to court to get your job back (or at least some back pay or other compensation) depending on state laws, but it’s a long and expensive legal battle which you will bear on your own. The default position for government work seems to be that executives are terrified of the idea of even suggesting that a failing employee be terminated.
And you’re paying for all of this. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of our candidates for federal positions brought this up at a town hall along with some suggestions as to how there could be a bit more equity in the system?