The average American looking for complete job security need not look further than the non-defense federal government’s public workforce, where there is a 99.5 percent chance they will never be fired for cause according to data retrieved from the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope. It is nearly impossible for a federal workforce employee to be terminated for poor performance, while in the private sector these firings occur significantly more often.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLT) survey, between 2005 and 2017 the private sector workforce maintained an average discharges and layoff rate of 17.27 percent. Conversely, FedScope reveals the public sector maintained a rate of 3.37 percent over the same period.
The public sector termination rate includes both firings for cause and general reductions in force. Perhaps even more frightening is that once these figures are separated, FedScope data reveals only 0.53 percent of federal employees are terminated for cause.
In 2016, scandal broke when a Government Accountability Office report revealed that mismanagement within the Department of Veteran Affairs caused new veterans to wait three to eight weeks for medical care, with many patients failing to receive any care at all. This scandal worsened when the Washington Times reported it had taken over two years to propose the firings of two senior leaders within the VA responsible for the death of nearly 300 veterans waiting for care.
Luckily, this sparked legislation pioneered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to increase accountability and transparency within the VA. According to data retrieved from the Office of Personnel Management FedScope, in the three months following the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, firings for cause at the VA increased by 26 percent.
Unfortunately, the VA is not the only government agency with an accountability problem. Across the federal government, terminations for cause occur at a significantly lower rate than in the private sector.
To be certain, a February 2015 Government Accountability Office report explained the removal process for federal employees take, at minimum, between 170 and 370 days. The report furthers, of the 2,001 employees receiving an “unacceptable” performance rating in 2009, 55 percent remained with the same agency in 2013.
Surprisingly, before the reforms passed the VA was still not even known across the federal government for having the lowest termination rate. For years the VA termination for cause rate averaged 0.74 percent, above the public sector average despite rampant abuse.
In fact, 13 out of 18 federal departments have an average termination for cause rate below the public sector average. The Department of Justice had an average termination rate of 0.22 percent, the Department of Housing and Urban Development had a 0.21 percent rate and the Department of State had a 0.22 percent rate.
Luckily, U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) has introduced the MERIT Act of 2017, which aims at expanding the accountability reforms outlined in the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to all government agencies.
The Act expedites termination timelines, increases agency management’s power to remove poor performing employees, creates a 30-day cap on appeal decision times, and requires the Merit Systems Protection Board to report to Congress when deadlines are not met.
Clearly our public sector accountability system is flawed, but as the VA reforms proved, reforms can improve department efficiency and employee wellbeing. After the VA reforms went into effect in June 2017, firings increased 27 percent in the three month period that followed.
Nobody wants employees to be fired, but poor performance cannot continue to be rewarded and accepted, and our federal employees must be held to the same standard as all working Americans. After all, these are the employees who are technically working for the American people, we must require them to be their best.