Don’t Lie on the Federal Employment Application

A federal employee learned the hard way that if you hide a pretty important fact on your federal job application, you face dismissal from the job and possibly debarment from working for the federal government.

The court recently upheld the dismissal and debarment of a federal employee who gave false information on a critical question on his job application. (Hardison v. Office of Personnel Management (C.A.F.C. No. 2015-3082 (non-precedential), 8/5/15) )

Hardison signed (with the usual certification that his answers were “true, correct, complete, and made in good faith”) and submitted his Form OF 306, Declaration for Federal Employment, when he applied for a job with the government. He answered “no” to Question 12:

“During the last 5 years, have you been fired from any job for any reason, did you quit after being told that you would be fired, did you leave any job by mutual agreement because of specific problems, or were you debarred from Federal employment by the Office of Personnel Management or any other Federal agency?”

As it turns out five days before signing and submitting this form, Hardison had been “involuntarily terminated from employment for excessive absences.” (Opinion p. 2)

Seems pretty clear his answer to Question 12 should have been “yes,” and he should have provided the required explanation.

About a month later, Hardison got a temporary maintenance position with the National Park Service (NPS). As he was processed in, he signed the OF 306 again and made no change to his answer to Question 12. A few months later, he tripled down by signing another Form OF 306, answering Question 12 with “no” yet again, when he applied for a difference federal job. (pp. 2-3)

Eventually this caught up with Hardison when OPM performed a background investigation. In a letter to Hardison, OPM used phrases such as “misconduct or negligence in employment,” with his private sector employer, and his “material, intentional false statement” on the government application forms. After giving Hardison’s responses to these concerns due consideration, OPM ordered up Hardison’s separation from service, cancelled his eligibility for government positions, and debarred him for three years. (p. 3)

The Merit Systems Protection Board made short work of Hardison’s appeal. He argued the “no” answer was an unintentional mistake, but the Board found that three separate instances where he was urged to provide any new or updated information but did not did not add up to a mistake. Instead the Board found his actions were intentional.

The appeals court did not see it any differently. The court brushed aside his argument that he had simply copied an original version of the form that he had filled out before being bounced from the previous job and that this was therefore a simple “oversight.” As the court opined, “We agree with the government that substantial evidence supports the Board’s finding that Hardison made material, intentional false statements on Form OF 306.” (p. 5)

In short, OPM has the authority and the responsibility to police this kind of dishonesty in the federal employment application process.

Hardison v. OPM (2015-3082)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.