GAO Report Looks at Challenges of Disciplining Poor Performing Federal Employees

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By on March 10, 2015 in Human Resources with 24 Comments

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says that it can take a great deal of time and effort for federal supervisors to remove federal workers for performance reasons and offers some recommendations for agencies to strengthen their abilities to deal with poor performers.

According to the report:

The time and resource commitment needed to remove a poor performing permanent employee can be substantial. It can take six months to a year (and sometimes longer) to dismiss an employee. According to selected experts and GAO’s literature review, concerns over internal support, lack of performance management training, and legal issues can also reduce a supervisor’s willingness to address poor performance.

In 2013, agencies dismissed around 3,500 employees for performance or a combination of performance and conduct. Most dismissals took place during the probationary period. These figures do not account for those employees who voluntarily left rather than going through the dismissal process. While it is unknown how many employees voluntarily depart, the CHCOs [chief human capital officers] that GAO interviewed said voluntary departures likely happen more often than dismissals.

One recommendation GAO had in the report is for agencies to make better use of an employee’s probationary period. This is “the ideal time to remove those who cannot do the work required of the position,” suggested GAO.

GAO also recommended improving training and agency practices as they relate to supervisors in several areas, such as extending the supervisory probationary period beyond 1-year to include at least one full employee appraisal cycle, providing detail opportunities or rotational assignments to supervisory candidates prior to promotion, where the candidate can develop and demonstrate supervisory competencies, or using a dual career ladder structure as a way to advance employees who may have particular technical skills and/or education but who are not interested in or inclined to pursue a management or supervisory track. GAO notes that the last item leads to supervisors who excelled as employees but lack the skills to excel in a supervisory role.

The full report is included below.

GAO: Improved Supervision and Better Use of Probationary Periods Are Needed to Address Substandard Employee…

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.