How complicated is it to fire a federal employee? - KMSP-TV

How complicated is it to fire a federal employee?

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WASHINGTON -

Working for the federal government traditionally meant a trade off: lower salaries but high job security.

Today, salaries are high and so is job security.

One analysis found the federal government fired only one half of one percent of its workers in fiscal year 2011 - about five times fewer than the private sector.

"When President Carter first came to office he decided that he was going to revamp the civil service process. Nobody really talked to him much after that in the federal agencies. It’s extremely difficult to fire anyone in any agency unless you're sitting in a hot tub with a wine glass and you're in charge of the GSA agency out in the west," said Thomas Schatz with Citizens Against Government Waste.

Jeff Neely, the organizer of that conference who was photographed in a hot tub with a wine glass, was never fired. Civil service regulations permitted him to retire with benefits.

Another GSA executive, Paul Prouty, who was fired in the Vegas conference scandal, was re-instated with 11 months back pay.

Then there was the case of an employee who was reprimanded for what supervisors called “excessive flatulence."

Five pages of meticulous notes documenting his 61 infractions were catalogued over 17 days last December.

He was notified that he had a right to a written grievance, to union representation, and to a civil rights complaint.

Last January, after all that, the reprimand was withdrawn.

The three cases demonstrate the cumbersome process of discipline in the federal government.

"You can't manage an organization if you can't control who works and who doesn't because of the office of Personnel Management rules and also the union contracts," said Senator Tom Coburn of the Senate Finance Committee.

But the existing system has no shortage of support.

“They are the best educated work force in the United States. They tend to be highly specialized. They could go to private sector and earn more money," said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.

Some say that those civil service protections serve an important function given shifting political winds.

"Back in the past and also recently, political reasons played a large role in who got hired and fired in the federal government and often when a new President would come in, absolutely everyone would be fired," said Robert Waldeck, an employment and labor law attorney.

Former Senator Evan Bayh, a FOX news contributor says "The broader point is public employees deserve due process the way other employees do, but we don’t want to have a protected class. Otherwise, there's a disconnect there that can only lead to hostility."

Now for the first time, the sequester is forcing hard choices. some federal workers will be furloughed and agencies will be forced to cut back.

"I think it’s an opportunity for government to really look at its operations because the wolf can't be kept from the door,” said Bayh.

Senator Tom Coburn wrote the Office of Personnel Management demanding that before any critical worker is furloughed, OPM should first target workers who, "are literally paid to do nothing or do not even show up for work." He wrote that over a seven year period, the government lost more than 9,000 years of work as a result of AWOL employees.

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