Senator Proposes Term Limits for Federal Employees

Challenges to the power of the federal government can be made in court or through legislation. One new bill would address this issue by creating term limits for federal employees.

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the idea of putting term limits on Members of Congress, but what about federal employees? This is the concept behind recently introduced legislation.

Career federal employees would become extinct under a bill introduced by Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS). The Tenure Evaluation and Rotation Mandate (TERM) Act (S. 3320) would limit federal employees working in the Executive branch to a maximum of 12 years.

There would be some exceptions, however. Law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces, civil service positions at the Department of Defense, border patrol officers, and presidential appointments would be exempt from the requirements of this bill.

Additionally, current federal employees who are already past 12 years of service would be given three years to find a new job if the bill were to become law.

Rationale Underlying this Bill

As to the reason for the bill, a press release issued by Marshall states, “This legislation aims to alleviate government bureaucracy and relinquish the power and control that life-long government employees receive behind the scenes that has run amuck and contributed to the massive inefficiencies within our federal government.”

Marshall said in a statement:

For too long, Washington D.C. has continued the status quo to the detriment of hard-working Americans. Look at where we are today: $33 Trillion in debt and paying $900 Billion in interest annually D.C. “beltway insiders” and bureaucrats are entrenched in this dysfunction and wield a lot more power than they should in negotiations, often oblivious to the cost of their decisions on American taxpayers. Washington D.C. is broken, and term limits on members of Congress as well as career-unelected “politicos” would be a great first step in returning the power to the people we serve.

In other words, the philosophy behind the bill is to curtail the power of the federal bureaucracy. Many government decisions impacting Americans are made by people in the federal bureaucracy who are not elected. Many work in government for decades and gather influence and power in a particular agency but remain unknown to the public.

Federal employees may make decisions that are not specifically approved by Congress but impact the lives of Americans without any chance for citizens to counteract these decisions but have to live with the results of the decisions that are made.

While the press release does not reference decisions made during the current administration impacting or banning low-cost appliances that cannot be sold or used for heating and cooling homes, heating water or washing clothes, decisions on issues such as these impact many people.

The impression in the news media is that the government is implementing its philosophy on climate change, air pollution, and numerous other issues by issuing edicts from within federal agencies rather than Congress passing laws. Congressional representatives are subject to re-election. Federal employees and federal agencies are not subject to election and continue on, often without any restrictions.

While the press release is short on specifics, the comment that the bill would “alleviate government bureaucracy and relinquish the power and control that life-long government employees receive behind the scenes” presumably concerns these types of issues and is behind the introduction of the Tenure Evaluation and Rotation Mandate (TERM) Act.

Impact on the Federal Workforce

Although it’s not likely to become law under the current session of Congress, a bill like this would drastically change various aspects of the federal employment system. That is probably the intent of the bill.

As it is now constructed, the federal government is often the only employment during a career for many federal employees. That would no longer be the case.

Federal employee benefits would be dramatically impacted. For instance, annual leave is granted to federal employees based on their length of service. The most generous leave accrual category is based on 15 or more years of federal service and grants full-time federal employees a full day (8 hours) per pay period. If federal employees only worked for 12 years, this would be obsolete.

The federal retirement system is also based on a person working for the government for many years before retiring. The federal retirement system is very generous with the Thrift Savings Plan, a federal annuity that pays benefits for the remainder of a person’s lifetime, and Social Security benefits. It is not clear how a retirement system would work should this bill become law. The system would have to be dramatically changed.

The press release does not address the bill’s impact on recruiting government workers. Working for the federal government is often seen as a lifetime job providing valuable retirement and generous employee benefits. No doubt, fewer people would want to work for the government knowing the job would only last for twelve years.

There are ways that may make government jobs more attractive such as higher pay and other benefits that would attract qualified people.

These issues are not discussed in the bill as proposed.


While this bill is unlikely to become law, it reflects underlying discontent and concerns with the current system. As government control gradually impacts all Americans in substantial ways, and that control is not widely appreciated or welcomed as the regulations impact the ability of individuals to make their own decisions, there will be efforts to make changes in how policy decisions are made and implemented.

Some of these changes may come through the legal system as there are already challenges to the ability of the federal executive branch to issue controversial regulations without specific Congressional approval. This bill is another way to challenge how the federal government may take it upon itself to create policies and programs.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47