MSPB finally finds a case where you can suspend a government worker without pay

After all the coverage we’ve done on federal workers getting in trouble (particularly at the VA) and the government’s failure to remove them from their positions, I’d come to the conclusion that it’s pretty much impossible to fire anyone from a federal job. I don’t feel particularly guilty over leaping to that conclusion given the preponderance of the evidence. After all, when you can keep your job after your department is caught stealing the drugs intended for veterans and selling them on the street or wind up not only keeping your job, but getting a bonus after being caught ripping off the taxpayers for tens of thousands of dollars, describing you as “fireproof” isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination. Most of these shenanigans were enabled through the good offices of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and they have the final say in such matters.

But it turns out that I was wrong. The MSPB has indeed found a case where you can at least suspend a government employee indefinitely without pay. All you have to do is make sure that they’ve been indicted by a grand jury on 50 counts of falsifying veterans’ health records, lying about it, and they’re facing up to five years in the slammer. (Government Executive)

Federal agencies may suspend indefinitely any employees potentially involved in a crime before they are found guilty, according to a new ruling, as long as they have been indicted by a grand jury.

In Henderson v. The Veterans Affairs Department, the central, Senate-confirmed members of the Merit Systems Protection Board ruled VA acted properly when it removed an employee a federal grand jury had indicted on 50 counts punishable by fines, imprisonment or both.

VA told Cathedral Henderson, a former program analyst based in Atlanta, Ga., it would reconsider his status upon the completion of the judicial proceedings. Henderson was indicted on charges related to falsifying health records and lying about it. The former General Schedule-13 (as of fiscal 2014) was found guilty on all 50 counts earlier this year, and is awaiting a sentence of up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

In case you missed the story of Cathedral Henderson, he was one of the few people actually prosecuted in the original wait time scandal at the VA. He was charged with fifty counts of intentionally falsifying the records of veterans waiting for critical care so it wouldn’t look like the office had missed their targets. But even after being caught, he fought his suspension and lack of pay and nearly won his case. Thankfully, in this instance, the MSPB agreed that he could be suspended without pay.

But here’s the catch: the suspension couldn’t take place until a grand jury agreed that there was probable cause and he was on his way to trial. In the world of government service, even if your bosses have found you in flagrant violation of the rules or simply breaking the law, they still can’t suspend you until you’re well through the process of being eventually convicted. In the civilian world, Mr. Henderson would have been on the sidewalk with his family photos in a cardboard box before lunchtime on the day that this was discovered.

Good work if you can get it.