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Federal employees removed, disciplined under the Hatch Act

With primary elections approaching, now is a good time to reiterate a few rules under the Hatch Act. The federal law, which was most recently amended in 2012, forbids federal workers from doing a number of things, all of which are political. Federal employees are forbidden to take part in political activities while at work or on federal property; receive or solicit political contributions while on duty; and run for office in a partisan election.

If a federal employee is found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, then he or she could face disciplinary action or removal. The Office of Special Counsel recently took such action against an employee of the United States Postal Service.

Phased retirement still a ways off for federal workers

Two years ago, Congress approved a program that would give federal employees who are near retirement the ability to work part-time while they trained in their successors. But little movement from the Office of Personnel Management has left a number of employees wondering what the law is and where they fit into things.

Called “phased retirement,” the program is regarded by many as a great way of “mentoring and training the next generation of civil servants” and was anticipated by a majority of federal employees nearing retirement. But the OPM has failed to create guidelines for how the program will run or what rules employees and employers will need to follow.

VA culture describe as "corrosive" in report to the President

A new report on the problems with the Veterans Affairs health care system from the President's Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson describes a "corrosive culture," that has led to low morale and resulted in the delaying of health care to veterans.

The report details an environment where workers distrust supervisors and where retaliation takes place against workers who raise "valid complaints" about the system. The acting VA Secretary state that the "systemic problems and cultural issues" must be solved. 

Public employee testimony protected by First Amendment

Cases involving whistleblowing are always in tension. Employees, whether public or private, are expected to follow instructions of supervisors and managers, and owe a duty of loyalty towards their employers. At the same time, when employees observe wrongdoing, illegal behavior or corruption, they have an obligation as a citizen to report or testify concerning the matter.

While this seems obvious, a U.S. Supreme Court case last week helped clarify some of the details of a situation where a public employee testifies and is then fired, in apparent retaliation for that testimony.

VA promises protections for whistleblowers

The ongoing revelations of the events at many Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals involving the scheduling delays for veterans seeking health care services has left many employees of the VA positioned as whistleblowers. This has created a new set of problems for the VA and for those employees.

Within any business or bureaucracy, there is always a hierarchy of management. It appears at the VA that some managers attempted to manipulate the scheduling system to eliminate delays in scheduling by creating "off the books" tracking. Lower level employees were instructed by their managers to use this process, and many merely followed instructions.

MSPB favoring agencies in furlough rulings

Last year's furloughs of federal employees caused by the sequestration resulted in an unprecedented number of appeals being brought by federal employees to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the federal agency that hears cases involving employee disciplinary and termination. About 38,000 appeals were filed with the MSPB, which is more than six times the number heard in an average year.

The MSPB has reported that through March 31 of this year, it has affirmed every sequestration furlough case it has heard. The furloughs were caused by the failure of Congress to agree to budget cuts. Sequestration forced agencies to furlough federal employees for various amounts of time throughout the year.

CFPB working to correct discriminatory practices

Claims of discrimination within government agencies are always troubling. The federal government has often had some of the most progressive personnel policies and it is expected that the federal government, which has the responsibility to enforce many of the anti-discrimination law, should always comply with those laws.

Those issues become even more troubling when the discrimination is occurring in an agency that is charged with enforcing laws which promote fairness and work to ensure those subject to the agencies regulations are treated on level playing field. 

Bill would block some future Department of Defense furloughs

Lawmakers are currently considering protecting some U.S. Department of Defense employees from future furloughs. Legislation that was introduced earlier this month would ban the DoD from furloughing those employees whose salaries are paid out of working capital funds. The argument for this reform is that fees and various charges--rather than the appropriations process--pays the salaries of these workers, and thus furloughing them does not result in any budgetary savings.

The Federal Times reports that 170,000 federal employees would gain furlough protection should the legislation pass. The legislation was introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 earlier this month.

VA employees and the hospital scheduling scandal

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is under fire for a scandal involving the scheduling of appointments for patients within the VA's hospitals. The situation has received a great deal of media coverage, much of it asking questions the CNN story cited. The escalation by politicians, asking questions like "Why hasn't anyone been fired yet" appear to be done to inflame the public and create a rush to judgment.

While there seems like there is evidence of scheduling irregularities and problems within the VA health system, the extent of the problem is still unknown and the Office of Inspector General is still investigating allegations. 

MSPB recommends formal protection for sexual orientation

When it comes to legal matters, there is a hierarchy of authority. The U.S. Constitution is the source of all other law in this country, which then moves down through acts of Congress that create statutory laws. Some of those laws create administrative agencies and grant those agencies the authority to promulgate regulations. Those regulations may be subject to interpretation by administrative personnel and administrative law judges.

And those interpretations instruct managers in federal agencies how to police their personal policies, and what constitutes a prohibited personal practice (PPP). Those policies are what protect actual federal employees. And those interpretations, while helpful, can be easily reversed, and afford only contingent protection from discrimination.

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