It’s that time again. We’re about to get a new face in the White House and a fresh breed of political overlords in each agency. Even the folks on Capitol Hill appear to be ready for a shake up. Hopefully, the new folks will take a few minutes to listen to us old guys before they start making seismic changes to our civil service.
As we here at FELTG claim rights to the heritage of some of the oldest folks in this business, we also claim the right – on your behalf – to tell the new leadership what’s working and what’s not working in this game of running the government. So expect to see several upcoming articles, intended for our new President, based on decades of (good and bad) experience, designed to make the government more effective and efficient while simultaneously recognizing long-standing employee rights and responsibilities.
To kick off our series, let’s start with one of our favorite topics: accountability. If you’ve participated in our supervisory program UnCivil Servant, you know that the subtitle for our textbook is Holding Government Employees Accountable for Performance and Conduct. We are all about accountability here at FELTG, from the bottom to the top.
But today, our focus is not on employee accountability, it’s on agency accountability. We’re looking at a question of accountability and responsibility that bedevils us all and drags down our civil service and our government:
What agency is responsible for the abysmal success rate government managers have when they fire employees?
Yes, abysmal. As we’ve written about in this newsletter before, MSPB should be upholding 100% of removals that managers implement. That’s because MSPB sets aside removals only when it finds that the agency made a mistake, and agencies have no business making mistakes (and thereby violating an employee’s rights) in any cases at all, save for the occasional unexpected change in law that occurs subsequent to the removal.
So exactly what is this less-than-100% rate that deserves the adjective “abysmal?” Well, according to the latest statistics and public pronouncements by MSPB’s current leadership, the Board finds fault and sets aside adverse action removals in 25% of appeals. That’s right. After spending the past 40 years learning the foundational civil service removal law, agencies still screw up one out of four cases.
That’s just terrible. Think of all the taxpayer dollars wasted on back pay and attorney fees. Add to that the agency resources that are wasted when an appealed action is set aside. Think of all the hundreds of lives disrupted each year by an unjust removal. If one out of four appealed removals is unwarranted, extrapolate that failure rate to all those employees who were fired, and who didn’t have the money, stamina, or wherewithal to make it through the appellate process so that MSPB could reverse their firing. And think of all the employees who should have been fired who were not because management looked at a success rates of only 75% and decided that it wasn’t worth the risk to fire them.
Now that I think about it, “abysmal” might not be strong enough.
If you ran a company, what would you do if you realized you had a 25% failure rate? 25% of your cars fell apart? 25% of your airplanes didn’t land? 25% of your pizzas made people sick? Would you sit back and say to yourself, “Well, at least 75% of my clients didn’t die.” No, you’d put somebody in charge of fixing the situation and then hold them accountable for a fix.
So who is responsible for fixing the government’s horrible success rate before MSPB? Nobody, as far as we can tell. Oh, here at FELTG we do what we can, but we don’t really have the responsibility to do it. We do it because it’s the right thing to do, and because our wonderful clients keep inviting us to do it. But really, shouldn’t there be a government entity held responsible for doing whatever it takes to make sure agencies fire people properly, to improve that success rate from 75% to something close to 99%?
And that, Madam/Mister President-to-Be is our first major recommendation. Put somebody in charge of improving the government’s success rate in removal actions. Don’t leave it up to individual agencies to know what to do. As we’ve discussed previously, too many employment law practitioners are still making basic mistakes, even though we’ve known that they were mistakes for almost a quarter of a century (don’t make me talk about “conjunctive charges” again).
And whomever/whatever you put in charge, hold them accountable. If the government’s success rate goes up, then that’s good. But if it stays the same or (god forbid) gets worse, sack them and get someone else. Accountability is too important not to hold someone accountable for it. [email protected]