Civil Service Reform

Civil Service Reform

For the most part, it is next to impossible to fire a career civil servant, regardless of how incompetent or disruptive he or she may be. I wrote earlier in this book about two persons in my own division in the Agriculture Department, who would never have been hired in private industry, but because of veterans preferences and prior experience in government, they were. It took three years and numerous appeals to rectify this error, often with agency management being forced into the role of defendant, and this was after many years of tolerated incompetence.

Recently, the Veterans Administration was involved in a scandal in which the reported lag time between a veteran’s request for medical assistance and his or her actually seeing a doctor was frequently less than it really was. This indirectly led to the decline in health or deaths of a number of veterans.

The deeper truth was worse than that. The entire Veterans Administration Hospital system is riddled with inefficiencies. The facilities were beautiful, the health care not so much. This led to the passage of a reform act, but only a very few top officials received any disciplinary action, and only one was let go. This is because the rank-and-file, where many of the worst abuses lay, could not be fired.

The incidents of mischief in the Secret Service, including a prostitution scandal, are other examples of the Civil Service Act letting us down. As was the IRS targeting scandal. In both cases, no more than a wrist-slap ensued.

The most important civil service reform is, therefore, to allow the firing of career federal government employees in a simple two-step process. First, by a request on the part of the immediate supervisor citing the cause for recommended termination and as many violations of rules or incidents of poor performance as he or she can muster. No warnings or history of poor performance ratings will be required, although such documentation could help bolster the case against the employee.

Second, by a review of the case on the part of the agency or department head or his or her delegate. Three outcomes can result from this review: immediate termination of the employee, immediate return to duty (if the supervisor can be persuaded to give the employee another chance), or transfer to another agency or another organizational element within the same agency.

There will be no other appeals allowed, except through the court system where the discharged employee must bear the brunt of any legal expenses.

Another reform to the civil service is to ban public service unions at the federal level. Groups of public service employees may, however, file grievances through the National Labor Relations Board, so long as that group is disbanded after settlement.

We should also privatize several of the service agencies in order to encourage better, more businesslike performance on the part of staffs. These include the Veterans’ Administration Hospitals, the Post Office Department, the Transportation Safety Administration, and Amtrak. The federal government will, however, be allowed to subsidize these new corporations should it be in the national interest to do so, especially in order to defray any start-up costs.

 

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