US Office of Personnel Management pushes for easier federal dismissal

By on 01/10/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Dale Cabaniss has said that agencies must act to meet a goal set by President Trump’s management agenda. (Image courtesy: The White House/flickr).

US agencies have been tasked with eliminating “unnecessary barriers to addressing poor performance” by March 2020, in a move that would make it easier to fire federal employees.

In a memorandum from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), its new director Dale Cabaniss said agencies must act “to maximise employee performance management and engagement”.

“A significant action that agencies should be taking to meet this challenge is streamlining and updating agency performance management and dismissal policies and procedures,” Cabaniss wrote.

The memo states that agencies must review whether existing policies create an obstacle to addressing the poor performance of federal employees, and remove performance management procedures that are not required by law. Officials should also remind supervisors that performance improvement plans can be initiated at any time, and that they can issue ‘adverse personnel actions’ – for example, removal, suspension or reduction in grade or pay – for “unacceptable performance”.

According to a statement from Cabaniss, as reported by the Federal Times: “Overly burdensome dismissal policies and procedures only harm the overwhelming majority of feds that are dedicated to public service and work hard every day to the benefit of the American taxpayer. They deserve colleagues that are just as dedicated to civil service as they are. It improves morale, unit cohesion and public trust.”

President’s Management Agenda

The aim of the memo is to focus agencies’ efforts “towards several key areas of transformation” set out in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) – which was published in March 2018, and seeks to modernise the federal government and its workforce – along with the requirements announced in an April 2017 memo from the Office of Management and Budget designed to reform federal government and reduce the federal civilian workforce.

Meeting the requirements “moves us all further towards the President’s overarching vision of a federal government that delivers mission outcomes and excellent service to the American people,” Cabaniss said in the latest memo, which states that agencies must meet the requirements by the end of March 2020, and notify OPM of their compliance by 30 April the same year.

Making it easier to fire feds

The memo comes less than two weeks after OPM proposed a new rule that would reduce the amount of time employees have to turn around poor performance, and encourage agencies to place new employees on a probationary period – during which they would not have the same appeals rights as other civil servants.

Under the new rules, agencies would be required to remind managers 90 days and 30 days in advance of when a new hire’s one-year probationary period expires, and encourage them to make an “affirmative” decision on whether to retain the employee.  

The proposed regulation would mean that agencies are not required to help employees improve or provide a performance improvement period longer than federal law requires, and would shorten the timeframe during which employees can respond to allegations of misconduct or poor performance before adverse personnel actions are formally proposed, Government Executive reported. It would also end the practice by which agencies and employees accused of wrongdoing can reach a settlement under which workers resign in exchange for having adverse personnel actions stripped from their employment records.

Controversial workforce executive orders

The OPM memo was published in the same week that the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit declined a request to rehear federal employee unions’ legal challenge against three controversial workforce executive orders. An existing injunction blocking key provisions of those orders is likely to be lifted in the next few days.

Among the proposals slated for implementation in the near future are requirements that all performance improvement plans be standardised at 30 days, and exempting adverse personnel actions from grievance procedures.

In a statement shared exclusively with Global Government Forum, Jefferson Friday, general counsel at the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), said on losing the initial appeal that if the executive orders were fully implemented, they would “seriously undermine the system of collective bargaining in the federal sector, reduce meaningful due process for federal employees that is essential to American democracy, and create major obstacles for federal employee union efforts to offer federal workers the representation that unions in the federal sector are required by law to provide”.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. Anthony Young says:

    I can only say as easier as they plan on making it to release an individual, I would hope they put in measures that reward the ones who are doing more with less. That has been the theme since the Bush era, do more with less. As many people are retiring, taking buyouts and feeling the stress of less resources, less space and teleworking due to a smaller federal footprint. It seems there is always a reduction and more tracking instead of more incentive and acknowledgement.

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