It’s hard to cut back on federal employees, but a new bill making its way through the House would make it a little bit easier.
Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the Ensuring a Qualified Civil Service Act, which would double the probationary period for federal employees from one year to two.
The probationary period is the narrow, one-year period after new employees are hired. During this period, federal managers can fire employees without going through a lengthy bureaucratic process.
This period isn’t necessary in the private sector, where businesses are free to dismiss employees at any time if they are not adequately performing their jobs.
In the federal government, though, it’s almost impossible to fire an employee after the one-year probationary period because the process of doing so is incredibly burdensome.
On average, it takes a year and a half to fire a federal employee—and it would be even higher if federal employers actually tried to fire more of their underperforming employees. Having learned from experience, most federal managers only attempt to dismiss employees in cases of extreme misconduct or for particularly egregious offenses.
Not surprisingly, the layoff and discharge rate for federal employees is only one-third that of the private sector.
Doubling the probationary period from one year to two years for most newly hired federal employees—including senior executive service employees—will give federal managers more time to assess whether new employees can perform their jobs well enough to stay on the payroll.
Of course, not all dismissible offenses occur within the first two years of employment. But adding an additional year to the probationary period would mark a significant improvement over the status quo and would help weed out the least productive federal employees.
This is good news for taxpayers and federal employees alike.
For taxpayers, it will mean a more productive federal workforce that will translate into lower federal personnel costs. And for federal employees, it will help weed out the bad actors that have given federal employees as a whole a bad rap.
Federal employees are unfortunately often characterized as lazy, unproductive, or even defiant—but that’s not true of the overwhelming majority of federal workers.
By reducing this negative stigma, the federal government would become more competitive with the private sector and could attract more skilled and productive employees.
Federal personnel and compensation policies are uncompetitive, and in many ways, counterproductive. The Heritage Foundation has proposed a comprehensive set of reforms to bring federal compensation and employment more in line with the private sector.
Increasing the probationary period for new federal hires is one step in the right direction toward a more competitive and productive federal workforce.