By William Wiley

I am so tired of this. Once more, we have an agency head that is being given bad advice by his employment law practitioners, thereby embarrassing himself and the civil service on Capitol Hill and in the press. Here’s the scenario that repeats itself every couple of months:

1. Agency employees do Bad Things.
2. Congress finds out about the Bad Things and summons the agency head to a Congressional oversight committee hearing to explain what’s being done.
3. Agency head says he knows about the Bad Things, but can’t do anything about it because of those pesky old civil service rules that keep him from disciplining employees.

AAAUUUGGGHHH! We are going to lose our civil service if this claptrap keeps up. The latest episode was on the front page of the Washington Post a week or so ago and involved our friends at the National Park Service.

If you know any of the following people (or their advisors), please send this article along:

• Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service
• Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior

The article described alleged sexual harassment and whistleblower reprisal at a specific national park and the testimony of senior Park leadership before Congress regarding the allegations. While not denying the misconduct occurred, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis stated that no one had been disciplined “because civil servants have strong rights to appeal disciplinary proceedings, taking action against them is not easy.”

Well, that’s just wrong. Whoever briefed Director Jarvis regarding civil service discipline and appeals did not do a good job. OK, OK; maybe “not easy” is shaded just enough to be truthful. However, the idea that the civil service protections somehow justify not disciplining employees who deserve it does our entire federal workforce and those who serve in it a huge disservice. As my grandmother used to say, “It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.” If you don’t know how to fire people from government, maybe go look in the mirror instead of in your tool box. The system has been in place nearly 40 years, and trained employment law practitioners use it every day to effectively and efficiently remove bad employees. If you were told otherwise, Director Jarvis, you were given incorrect information.

For over 15 years, FELTG has been honored to provide periodic how-to-discipline training for supervisors throughout the government, including the Park Service. On a personal note, it is tremendously rewarding to help a supervisor learn how to deal with a problem employee, removing the employee from service if that becomes necessary. So many supervisors are frustrated by the absence of good advice on how to take discipline quickly and effectively. Here at FELTG, we teach them the way to fire a bad performer in 31 days, and how to make it stick on appeal.

Last year, I was approached during a classroom break by an agency attorney who was attending one of our famous open-enrollment seminars in Washington, DC. She said that she knew that FELTG was teaching supervisors at her agency how to fire people, and that we needed to back off. In her opinion, I was making a mistake (and causing her problems) because I wasn’t taking into consideration the “culture” at her agency. Since at FELTG we teach how to remove bad employees quickly and efficiently, I assume she meant that at her agency, the culture is not to take quick efficient discipline.

She identified herself as being with the general counsel’s office at the National Park Service.

It’s all starting to come together now.

Relatedly, I reviewed the judge’s decision in a case referenced in the article, a case in which the Board found that the Park Service engaged in whistleblower reprisal. An element of that case was whether the whistleblowing appellant had a good-faith belief that an agency official violated a government regulation. Although the agency’s Office of Inspector General specifically found that the agency violated government regulations, the agency argued to the judge that the appellant did not have a good faith belief in that fact. In analyzing that claim, the administrative judge concluded, “I am, frankly, astounded by the agency’s representations and arguments. Unless it did not read its own OIG report, I cannot fathom how it could make such assertions.” Carter v. DoI, AT-1221-13-2153-W-1 (December 3, 2014).

Ouch. It’s never a good day when a Board judge refers to your arguments as astounding and concludes that she “cannot fathom” how you could make such representations. Maybe there’s more than a counter-productive “culture” going on with the Park Service. We are happy to help – give us a call. Wiley@FELTG.com

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