By Deborah Hopkins, October 26, 2020

There is a lot going on in our country right now. The election is in just a week (though it feels like it’s been going on for years – and in some ways, it has) and the news cycle is packed with that, plus the ongoing pandemic.

In addition, the telework is continuing for many of you. Can you even remember the last time you actually saw your coworkers in person?

I’m sure you’re exhausted and frustrated and tired of 2020. And given that it’s almost November, it might be tempting to check out for the remainder of 2020, and hope that 2021 holds better things.

But wait!

You can’t check out. There is SO MUCH going on in the federal civil service, from changes that have gone into effect in the last few weeks, to changes that will be implemented within the next several, and your agency cannot afford to miss them.

One of the biggest happenings is the issuance of OPM’s regulations modifying 5 CFR Parts 315, 432 and 752, which go into effect November 15. These 199 pages are packed full of information, some of it surprising and some of it unsurprising yet still significant. I’ll provide an overview of the biggest takeaways during a webinar on November 12, but today I wanted to share a portion that directly speaks to one of the most hotly-contested topics in the history of FELTG training: Who should do the Douglas factors assessment — the Proposing Official (PO) or the Deciding Official (DO)?

Take a look at the below addition to 5 CFR Part 752, which previously only had subparts (a) and (b):

§ 752.403 Standard for action and penalty determination.

(c) …The penalty for an instance of misconduct should be tailored to the facts and circumstances… Within the agency, a proposed penalty is in the sole and exclusive discretion of a proposing official, and a penalty decision is in the sole and exclusive discretion of the deciding official.

To some of you, that may seem like it’s nothing new. However, if you look at the discussion under 752.202, which also applies here, the emphasis is on an individual determination and assessment of each distinct case of employee misconduct. The discussion says, “there is no substitute for managers thinking independently and carefully about each incident as it arises, and, as appropriate, proposing or deciding the best penalty to fit the circumstance.” Subpart (d) also says that a minor indiscretion for one supervisor based on a particular set of facts can amount to a more serious offense under a different supervisor.

So, how does this answer the question about Douglas? Well, taken along with the context provided, each case is unique, and who better knows about all the details relating to the misconduct and its effect on the agency than the Proposing Official? And what better way to tailor the penalty “to the facts and circumstances” than having the PO do a full Douglas penalty analysis? We’ve been saying it for 20 years at FELTG, and we’ll be saying it for the next 20 years.

This language also speaks to advisors who might disagree with the PO’s proposed penalty or the DO’s ultimate decision, and might try to change their minds. The regulation clearly states the penalty is entirely up to the PO and DO. As advisors we may advise on an acceptable range of options, but that document is going to be signed by the person taking responsibility so it needs to match their analysis.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we discuss more takeaways from the regulations. Feel free to email Ask FELTG ([email protected]) if you have any questions. In the meantime, take care. [email protected]

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