By William Wiley, originally published November 14, 2015; posted July 10, 2015
Questions, we get questions. And here’s one that goes to the fundamental nature of an agency’s authority to do anything:
Dear Genius-Level Brains at FELTG-
What is the Statutory or CFR basis that gives Management the authority to issue written reprimands? I’ve reviewed USC Chapter 5 and 5 CFR 752 as well as more OPM webpages than I thought could exist. I see lots on suspensions (<14 days and >14 days) but nothing that seems to give Agency Management the right or authority to issue written reprimands. Do you know of any CFR reg that addresses an Agency Head’s authority to issue written reprimands for the efficiency of the service?
And our sparkly little FELTG answer:
There’s no specific statutory or regulatory authority to issue reprimands. Rather, the authority comes from the statutory delegation of the authority for the general administration of personnel within an agency to the head of the agency, 5 USC 302(b). Issuing a reprimand is part of the “general administration of personnel.” Therefore, it is delegated to the head of your agency.
It is a common misunderstanding to look for the authority to do something specific in government. Rather, this broad delegation of general administration authority effectively allows you to do anything related to personnel administration that you deem necessary, unless there is a prohibition against it. The better way to approach the issue is to ask, “Where does it say I cannot issue a reprimand?” As it does not say that anywhere, then you can.
An analogy would be, “Where does it say in law or regulation you have the right to breathe?” It does not. That right is embedded in the right to “the pursuit of happiness” that is found in our Constitution.
As for the content of a reprimand, generally the belief is that a reprimand was first defined for the practical purposes of progressive discipline in Bolling v. Air Force, 9 MSPR 335 (1981). Subsequently, buckets of Board decisions have relied on the fact of a reprimand being in the record to support progressive discipline. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a reprimand as “to censure formally, especially with authority.” The head of your agency has the authority to administer personnel. Therefore, you can reprimand.
By the way, nothing requires that a reprimand be for “the efficiency of the service.” That is a requirement set forth in statute only for 5 USC 7513(a) actions: suspensions, demotions, and removals. Rather, we are bound to take a personnel action (e.g. reprimand) only on the basis of conduct that adversely affects the performance of the employee or others, 5 USC 2302(b)(1). A reprimand is based on misconduct. Therefore, this standard is satisfied.
Hope this helps. Best of luck-