There has been much discussion on the topic of the firing of federal employees. Some still try to sell the old line that “you can’t fire a federal employee.” This is, to put it bluntly, hogwash. As the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) notes in a recent report to the President and Congress, tens of thousands of federal employees have been fired over the last 10 years.
In spite of the outrage over the Veterans’ affairs hospitals and manipulation of scheduling treatment for veterans, the reality is any agency could fire any employee who violated the law or internal agency rules, or whose conduct fell far below the required standards.
The MSPB explains in great detail, with supporting statutes, regulations and case law, the process of adverse actions and removals of federal workers.
The Board points out that an agency has 30 days to put into effect an adverse action, and if they suspect serious criminal activity, that shrinks to seven days. The employee must know what they are charged with and have time to respond, which they can do with their own attorney, at their own expense. And they must be provided the reason for the decision in writing.
In the end, what is clear is that when agencies fail to remove an individual, it is likely the agency failed to properly marshal its evidence and show with facts the necessity of the individual’s removal.
Some cases may take longer, but that is often because the agency requires more time to build and support its case. Many of these questions are not easy or obvious. Performance assessments are fraught with subjectivity and if you were placed under oath, just how would you describe your reasons for firing a coworker?
Many cases have exceptional or unique circumstances that often are sanded away by 15-second sound bites. As with an iceberg, in disciplinary actions, many of the issues are obscured by in the depths.
Due process is one of the most fundamental of all rights that Americans hold dear. We should always be alert to threats that seek to undermine that right, no matter their justification.
Source: MSPB.gov, “What is Due Process in Federal Civil Service Employment?” U.S. MERIT SYSTEMS PROTECTION BOARD, May 2015