OPM to roll back Trump-era rules allowing firing of federal workers

You might think that after almost a full year in office, Joe Biden would have pretty much wrapped up his plans to undo virtually every successful measure implemented under the Trump administration that could be erased. And for most of the possible options, that’s been the pattern we’ve observed. But there was one issue that received far less publicity than Trump’s policies regarding topics such as immigration, border security, and tax cuts. That would be Trump’s efforts to bring more accountability to the federal workforce and allow for the termination of delinquent, underperforming workers. (And in some cases, even those found to be engaging in criminal conduct.) But now, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) under the Biden administration is gunning for those reforms as well. Under the new proposed regulations, most of the badness from the pre-Trump era would be restored, with managers essentially having their hands tied when attempting to apply disciplinary actions against delinquent workers. (Government Executive)

The Office of Personnel Management is set to propose regulations that would rescind policies established during the Trump administration aimed at making it easier to fire federal workers.

In May 2018, then-President Trump signed an executive order streamlining the discipline and firing of federal employees. The Trump edict led to OPM issuing regulations in November 2020 that required agencies to inform supervisors when the end of an employee’s one-year probationary period is three months and one month away, and clarified that agencies are not required to help underperforming employees to improve or to provide an improvement period longer than 30 days.

The 2020 regulations also shortened the timeframe by which employees were able to respond to allegations of misconduct or poor performance before adverse personnel actions were formally proposed, and barred agencies from agreeing to settlements with employees, where the workers agree to resign in exchange for having adverse personnel actions stripped from their employment records.

Just to be clear about what’s actually being proposed here, we are talking about federal workers who are found to be so incompetent at their jobs that they have been identified as needing to be replaced. In other cases, these rules would be applied to those found guilty of criminal activity. These changes would make it once again ridiculously difficult to terminate their employment.

This subject returns us to the heyday of the Merit Systems Protection Board which was seriously weakened under the Trump administration. The board was traditionally staffed with labor union activists and nearly any federal worker who was scheduled for disciplinary action could appeal their case to them. The board traditionally almost always found in favor of the worker (a union member) and stymied the efforts of management to demand accountability. It sounds as if those days will be with us once again if these new regulations are approved.

The “work” of the MSPB was particularly egregious when it came to the operation of the Veterans Administration. They blocked the removal of so many workers there (including some who had been found guilty of stealing medicine prescribed for veterans and illegally selling it) that the Senate finally tried to demand some accountability from the board in 2016. But similar patterns were uncovered in nearly all departments of the federal government.

So why would Joe Biden be in favor of rolling back all of these reforms? It all boils down to the same two reasons we could cite for most of his orders. First, these were programs that the Trump administration created or endorsed. And anything that the Bad Orange Man liked has to go, no matter how effective and productive it may have been. The second reason is that the labor unions representing federal workers are still very powerful and they donate a lot of money to Democrats. They don’t like seeing their members terminated (because fewer members results in less dues being paid) and the MSPB is a great asset to make sure that doesn’t happen, no matter how horrendous the employee in question might be.

Just toss this decision onto the pile with the rest of the horrible Biden policies that the next GOP president will need to reverse yet again. Sadly, since we live in the era of rule by executive order (with presidents from both parties being guilty of this), this is the “new normal” and it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

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