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GAO: Several DHS components fail to monitor misconduct claims

Leadership from three components of the Department of Homeland Security -- the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- do not consistently monitor their internal controls in employee misconduct cases, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.

The three components do have internal controls established to process misconduct allegations, the report says, but they don't document crucial control activities consistently. These internal controls simply represent what each agency considers necessary to ensure the quality and independence of the employee misconduct process.

Why you should respond promptly to disciplinary action

When a federal employee is suspected of misconduct, the employer may launch an employee investigation. That investigation may be followed by disciplinary action.

For the employee, a lot is at stake. The employee could face administrative penalties (such as job loss) or criminal penalties.

Pressure is on for agencies to use performance data in management

According to a Sept. 5 report by the Government Accountability Office, the average federal agency has done little over the past 20 years to increase its use of performance data to make management decisions, or even to adopt practices to promote its use. In particular, the GAO compared a 2013 survey to the most recent (2017) survey of 24 agencies and found little change.

For the survey, managers were asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, the extent to which they and others at their agency use performance data when making various decisions. Government-wide, the 2017 score was 3.39, which is statistically identical to the 2013 score of 3.41. The 2013 score, in turn, had changed little from the 2007 score.

Lawmakers probe misconduct allegations against FEMA official

According to a letter submitted by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General received a sexual misconduct complaint against FEMA's then chief component human capital officer (CHCO) on May 1, 2017. By that time, FEMA employees had already filed eight complaints against the CHCO alleging non-sexual misconduct since 2001, along with 14 complaints that referenced him. Yet an investigation into the sexual misconduct complaint didn't begin until December 2017.

As we discussed last month, the now-former CHCO resigned in June after an investigation revealed "deeply disturbing" misconduct, mismanagement, lapses in professional responsibility and a "toxic workplace culture" at FEMA. According to a news release by the committee, the ex-CHCO is accused of having sexual relationships with subordinates, promising promotions in exchange for sex, and hiring unqualified personal friends for positions at the agency.

Judge overturns 3 executive orders, demands good faith bargaining

A federal judge has overturned most of the key provisions of the three executive orders affecting federal employees that President Trump signed in late May. Among other changes, one executive order directed federal agencies to renegotiate all union contracts involving federal employees and changed what was to happen when negotiations stall. Another limited the overall length of performance improvement plans to 30 days and constrained appeals. A third restricted the "official time" available to be used for union activities.

A coalition of federal employee unions filed suit to stop the three orders in June. They argued that federal law -- Chapter 71 of the Civil Service Reform Act -- laid out how the federal sector handles labor relations. Since these rules were passed by Congress and signed into law, the president lacks the authority to change them through executive orders. Executive orders, they argued, cannot expressly conflict with federal law.

Arbitrator: USPS must rescind policy on unpaid political leave

In July 2017, the Office of Special Counsel called on all federal agencies to disallow unpaid union official leave when its purpose was for an employee to engage in "partisan political activity." It claimed that allowing leave for that purpose violates the Hatch Act, which limits federal employees' participation in political campaign activities.

Furthermore, after finding that many federal agencies have leave policies allowing the activity, the OSC called for the removal of those policies so as not to systemically violate the Hatch Act. The U.S. Postal Service complied and changed its policy.

Understanding whistleblower rights

When an employee witnesses harassment, discrimination or another illegal action at work, he or she should feel comfortable reporting the behavior.

When an employee “blows the whistle” on the employer or company, the employee is protected by law. Unfortunately, some employers will take action against the employee in the form of demotion, assigning undesirable job duties or even job termination.

Can your polygraph results be used against you?

Current and prospective federal employees are sometimes required to undergo a polygraph exam as part of their security clearance applications or renewals. Mostly, the "lie detector test" is required for people seeking a high security clearance within the intelligence community or the Defense Department.

The problem with polygraphs is that the technology has not been updated in almost 50 years. Moreover, there is significant debate about whether the device is even accurate. For example, polygraph results are generally not admissible in court because technical evidence of this sort must be generally accepted as reliable within the applicable field of scientific study -- and polygraphs do not meet that standard.

FEMA: Former official accused of years of sexual misconduct

Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long recently issued a statement saying that FEMA's former chief component human capital officer (CHCO) had been the subject of an internal investigation before he resigned on June 18. That years-long investigation, Long said, revealed "lapses in professional responsibility" that he called "deeply disturbing."

A written summary of the investigation's findings provided to the New York Times alleged that the former CHCO had "engaged in serious misconduct and mismanagement" that had created a "'toxic workplace culture."

Special Counsel whistleblower backlog doubled from 2011 to 2016

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the Office of Special Counsel's backlog of whistleblower and prohibited personnel practices cases almost doubled between 2011 and 2016, even though the OSC has been actively working to reduce it. The GAO notes that the OSC increased the number of employees reviewing the cases and established a unit focusing on hybrid cases involving both a whistleblower disclosure and alleged retaliation. Nevertheless, the approximately 66-percent increase in cases filed since 2011 was enough to overcome those efforts and cause the backlog to increase.

The report warns that a sustained backlog threatens the OSC's ability to fulfill its mission of protecting federal employees, noting that processing delays effectively delay justice. "Without timely resolutions, whistleblowers may be discouraged from filing whistleblower disclosures," the report adds.

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