Toward the end of last year we talked about a sudden flurry of hiring going on inside of federal agencies. The reason for the surge in new workers was Donald Trump’s threat to impose a hiring freeze once he got into office and then clear out some of the dead wood, cutting costs and improving efficiency. The motivation for federal managers and their unions was obvious: once you place somebody in one of those jobs it’s easier to find a five leaf clover than it is to fire them, even if they’re selling drugs out of their offices or driving the getaway car at a robbery. The more people they stuff on the payroll, the harder it will be for the Trump administration to clean house.
Now, as Government Executive reports, Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has sent out a letter warning them against any further hiring binges for the time being. Let’s see how that works out.
The lawmaker with chief oversight responsibility of federal agencies is warning them against binge hiring out of fear of a hiring freeze under the incoming Donald Trump administration.
Leaders of 18 Cabinet-level agencies received a letter this week from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, saying a looming freeze did not entitle them to bypass merit systems principles in hiring. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman asked the agency heads to provide his panel with a list of all job openings for positions in General Schedule-13 posted or higher since the election, how many individuals applied and the date of hire. Chaffetz also requested data on hiring timelines in 2015 for comparison.
It’s a well intentioned move, but without the ability to declare some sort of preemptive freeze, I’m unsure how much Chaffetz can actually do beyond sending them a sternly worded letter. And as I pointed out above, once the new workers are settled into their cubicles, getting them out will likely require the administrative equivalent of a stick of dynamite.
On a related note, while I don’t want to go all conspiracy theory on you here, it strikes me as more than a little coincidental that at the same time that Chaffetz was penning his letter, another note went out to all the federal agencies from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). On the surface it’s made to sound like a helpful reminder about how you actually can fire a sub-par worker, but when you read into the details a different theme emerges.
OPM’s Guidance on Firing Bad Employees Will Remind You That It’s Complicated
The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday reminded federal managers that they have several tools at their disposal to discipline poor performers or employees engaged in misconduct.
OPM released 22-page guidance — not intended to be “comprehensive” — outlining the various disciplinary procedures for Title 5 employees, depending on whether the issue is performance-related, or a result of misconduct. The guidance walks agencies through the proper steps, including notification and documentation, required for suspending, reassigning, demoting and firing employees and members of the Senior Executive Service.
“Maximizing employee performance and addressing misconduct, when appropriate, is a critical responsibility of managers and supervisors,” wrote acting OPM Director Beth Cobert in an accompanying memorandum.
The title talks about firing people, but if you dig into that “guidance” the subject almost never comes up. They do suggest that it’s easier to terminate someone during their initial probationary period, but beyond that? Not so much. All of the emphasis is on “discipline” and maximizing performance. The various options for any sort of discipline all come with reminders about how the Merit System Protection Board can step in at any time to hear an appeal and possibly derail the disciplinary action. Whether it’s poor performance or “misconduct” being dealt with, the employee has almost limitless options. (And keep in mind yet again that being the wheel person for a stick-up job doesn’t rise to the level of “misconduct” sufficient to lose your job.)
Perhaps I’m just suspicious by nature, but that doesn’t sound like the sort of guidance which would hinder hiring or promote the dismissal of poor performers or criminals at all. In fact, it appears to be entirely the opposite.