By William Wiley

As some of you might remember, late last year here at FELTG, we embarked on a mission we had never undertaken before. We decided to conduct a highly-scientific survey of all the attendees at our training programs to try to get an answer to what I think we would all agree is a highly pressing question:

Why don’t federal supervisors fire more bad employees?

The impetus for our doing this was in large part a response to all the negative press we civil servants have been receiving recently relative to accountability. It’s in the papers, on the evening news, and the subject of Congressional oversight committee meetings. Presidential candidates have campaigned about it. MSPB has dutifully reported the dismal numbers of successful removals and the extraordinary length of time it takes to make them happen. DVA and DoD have seriously looked into positioning their employees so that they would be outside of MSPB jurisdiction of removals, believing that the Board is the source of all the problems.

So we decided to survey you guys who are closest to the issue: you front line supervisors, union officials, human resource specialists, and agency legal counsel. Many of you see this stuff every day, and we thought it worthwhile that someone asks you what you think. Not that the opinions of the members of Congress are necessarily wrong. It’s just that we think we should find out the answer from the horse’s mouth (rather than some other horse body part).

Our survey was exceedingly simple. The single relevant question was phrased as follows:

Many people believe that agencies do not fire enough bad employees, that agencies should do more to hold employees accountable for conduct and performance. If you think this is probably true, how would you divide 100% of all the causes among the following categories?

Following the question, we provided a list of about a dozen possible causes. Things like:

______                        Lack of knowledge in the legal support staff

______                        Lack of knowledge by senior management

______                        Fear of reversal on appeal in human resources

______                        Fear of reversal on appeal in the legal support staff

______                        Desire not to hurt the employee by the front line supervisor

______                        Desire not to hurt the employee by senior management

The survey takers (and our many thanks to those of you who took the time to give us a response) were asked to divide 100% among as many categories as were relevant. Some participants went with two or three categories, maybe 30, 40, and 30%. Others went into much more detail, ascribing 3-10% to almost every category. Amazing how people respond to surveys.

Well, the results are in. After collecting about 700 responses, figuring out how to use Excel, and then crunching the numbers, we came up with clear winners. And, my goodness, were they clear. Of the 100 percentage points that could have been award, 78 of those points were split between just two categories, in order of responses:

  1. Lack of knowledge on the part of supervisors
  2. Lack of knowledge on the part of human resources specialists

So why are these results difficult for us to report? Because here at FELTG, we make our payroll each month by teaching supervisors and HR specialists (and attorneys and union representatives) how to hold employees accountable. It is clear that we have a big bias, and I wouldn’t blame a reader from thinking that our bias shows through. As my grandmother used to say, “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” An obvious corollary would be, “Never ask a training company if you need training.”

The best I can do is to tell you that we tried as hard as we could to be neutral. While I’ll concede that maybe the answers would have been different if we had asked this question outside of a training room, of individuals who were not actively participating in training at the time of the responses. However, we don’t have that luxury. We had to play the cards dealt to us, and classroom participants are who you dealt us.

Maybe our little survey will motivate those of you in a position to conduct your own survey, away from a classroom, to see what kind of answers you get. This is not a question that should be answered from a gut feeling. It should be answered based on facts, facts that are perhaps different from agency to agency.

But until that happens, our FELTG answer remains the answer to disprove. We put on our big-boy and big-girl pants, asked the tough question, and got an answer that makes sense to us. If you can do better, go for it. And if you’re a policy maker, until you get a better answer on your own, maybe you should consider throwing some resources into training your supervisors and your advisors. Because that’s what the most recent highly-scientific survey says you should do.

FELTG operators are standing by: 888-at-FELTG. Wiley@FELTG.com

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