President Trump called on Congress in his State of the Union speech last night to expand the authority of federal agencies to reward good federal employees and fire others for non-performance.
He said, “All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
Trump also mentioned the VA Accountability Act in his speech, a new law that makes it easier to remove, suspend or demote employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last year, the Congress passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my Administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve — and we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.
I will not stop until our veterans are properly taken care of, which has been my promise to them from the very beginning of this great journey.
Taken together, the statements suggest that the Trump administration would like to see the powers of the VA Accountability Act expanded to include all federal agencies to simplify the process of removing federal employees for performance, something that is often a lengthy process.
Other efforts have been made in Congress towards this end, although they have yet to progress. Last year, for example, the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency Act was introduced to make federal employees “at-will” employees, meaning they could be removed or suspended from their jobs, without notice or right to appeal. The bill has yet to advance, however.
The Merit Act was also a similar bill introduced last year. It would enable faster removal of a federal employee for misconduct or poor performance. It, also, has yet to advance in Congress as of the time of this writing.
What’s the Answer?
Is it really as simple as making it easier to fire federal employees?
Others have argued that it isn’t. FedSmith.com author Jeff Neal has said he believes the entire disciplinary/reward process needs overhauling. He wrote last year, “The goal should be a government where good work is recognized, great work is rewarded, and poor performers and people with conduct problems either get better or get gone.”
He went on to outline some specific recommendations for a disciplinary process that he thinks would work better, such as some offenses requiring mandatory removal and employees having only one venue for appeal.
FedSmith.com author Bob Gilson said in a suggested fix of the disciplinary process, “Decide that authority to discipline employees should rest within an Agency, encourage an internal review, and leave an outside review to only the most serious claims.”
He went on to list ten criteria that he felt would make for a better and more fair disciplinary system. This included things such as every employee being entitled to due process and no appeal being allowed outside of the agency unless the employee can establish that the action was taken solely for a specifically prohibited reason or as reprisal for whistleblowing.
What is your opinion? Should the government make it easier to fire federal employees for cause, and if so, what steps should be taken? Share your feedback in the comments below.