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Civilian Review Committees for Federal Employee Decisions
September 7, 2012 4:11 PM   Subscribe

How does the idea of a civilian review board for previewing the firing and disciplinary actions of federal managers against civilian employees sound?

Currently, a small number of federal employees are protected by a union. Converserly, there are reams of documentation by the Office of Personnel Management and case law by federal attorneys that protect employers, managers and administrators against all level and manner of accusations by employees. At a number of county, state and municipal levels, oversight committees exist to evaluate the decisions of policymakers and administrators, whether it is police departments, utility companies, etc. I wonder if the same kind of oversight would give more protection to federal employees in light of the impunity with which managers demote, promote, discipline and fire employees. This, in light of the numbers of employees retiring and not being replaced, and therefore, doing double or triple duty. I am not asking this as a jumping off point for a debate about Federal employee benefits or security or anything like that. I am asking only about what you see as the strengths and weakness of such an idea. It seems to me that although the government may be operating within the letter of the law, they may not be operating within it's spirit regarding the disposition of employees always, i.e. legal but not just. And I understand there are ocassional mistakes or miscarrages. But this is a buyer's market for employers and as anybody who has been fired knows, sometimes, it's nothing to do with performance, and sometimes, it's everything. Thanks.
posted by CollectiveMind to Law & Government (7 answers total)
 
Isn't this what the Merit Systems Protection Board is for?

My understanding is that federal workers are protected to a greater extent than unionized folks. The method to fire a federal worker is intentionally difficult to avoid partisanship and party favoritism. It creates a barrier between the political aspects of government and the service provider aspect of government.
posted by politikitty at 4:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any protection of unionized government employees is really something of a falsehood; union and non-union employees have basically the exact same protections, rights and benefits, since it's usually against the law to do any kind of governmental work stoppage or walkouts, nor do unions have much say in pay, benefits etc. A LITTLE imput, sure, but not nearly the level that unions have in non-governmental jobs, even in this very anti-union era.

And honestly, from a governmental employee standpoint? There already ARE multiple layers of protection --- for instance, they've been trying to fire a co-worker of mine for six solid months now..... dozens of documented times late to work, several elementary (and EXTREMELY expensive) screwups, eight times she's been found dead asleep (NOT just nodding off or napping: deep, solid SLEEP), etc. etc......
posted by easily confused at 4:33 PM on September 7, 2012


It seems like this would have potential to become very political in today's climate. Imagine the tea party taking over this board, and then firing all the employees.

Further, my understanding has always been that it's very difficult to get fired from a government job, which strikes me as a huge problem, and quite possibly part of the reason government service is notoriously poor.
posted by !Jim at 4:59 PM on September 7, 2012


I'll get my anecdote/joke out of the way first: my father the former Army ordnance officer says that in early testing of new missiles, they call the very first actual build of a missile the "DAC stage" (DAC = Department of the Army Civilian) -- because it doesn't work and you can't fire it.

As other people note above, layers and processes and systems and protections are already in place. If an agency of the federal government is ignoring these, then this "impunity with which managers demote, promote, discipline and fire employees" isn't because such protections don't exist, it's because the agency is actively avoiding them and hasn't been caught yet. In that situation, a civilian review board won't help either.
posted by Etrigan at 5:02 PM on September 7, 2012


It seems what you're looking for is something that gives federal employees rights greater than those enjoyed by any employee who doesn't have tenure, an individual employment contract, or the protections afforded by a collective bargaining agreement.

The drawbacks of this system are that it will make it difficult to discipline, demote, transfer, give negative evaluations to, or discharge ineffective employees. It will also be more expensive, as adding this type of review layer would inevitably raise costs. It also would be morale-destroying for managers, who will be second-guessed on decisions that are, by the terms of your question, completely legal.

The advantages accrue to both deserving and undeserving employees. If you're a deserving employee and your manager legally terminates you, demotes you, passes you over for promotion, negatively evaluates your performance, or otherwise acts legally but somehow fails to honor the spirit of the law, then you have open to you an avenue for remediation. But this also advantages undeserving employees, who will sometimes prevail on their appeals to this review board; and even when they don't prevail, the constant threat that they will challenge any unliked decision by their manager will often be enough to ensure that they're promoted, given the assignments they prefer, not transferred, and so on. And, of course, any time they assert their rights to a review by the board, any perceived adverse employment action by the manager thereafter will give rise to a legal claim of retaliation. (Additionally, if you don't think that a review board will ever get it wrong, read some arbitration decisions, and it is eye-opening to see the shocking misconduct and horrid performance of employees who an arbitrator decides to reinstate).

An alternative to this kind of review board would be to unionize more employees, should employees be interested in this. It will provide a lot of the same benefit, by allowing employees to grieve decisions subject to the collective bargaining process.

I would imagine a workplace with a union--where the employees have a little more buy-in, since it's a group they belong to--might work better than adding a layer of review above managers that acts as some kind of super-Human Resources department that gets to second guess what you describe as lawful decisions.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:38 PM on September 7, 2012


I honestly don't think we need it because there are already programs in place that are totally functional and in my opinion very successful.

In our Local, part of the bargaining agreement states that they can defer to or use 3rd party mediation. We have a mediation group in this region and if it's not resolved there it can move up to the federal level mediators. Yes, they are also fed employees but I've seen them in action and they are NOT there to screw employees or endorse or uphold local policy that may be unfair.

If an employee is non-union or their union does not have this protection in their agreement, the Merit Systems Protection Board would likely be their next step. (Hat tip to politikitty!)

As a manager, I have no union membership or union protections. So if I'm railroaded and get no support from my command structure, my first stop is the MSPB. Typically, they are also very good folks.

Speaking of the MSPB, I was there when a Base C.O. was taken down (fired) because his MWR department was mistreating a NAF, not even civil service, employee. There are consequences and the MSPB takes things very seriously.

Also, just as a side note, it's become common practice in many places to not fill positions for entirely humanitarian reasons...it's much better and easier to simply lose a position on paper than it is to actually lose a body. It's tough, but we prepare for RIFs that way.

While I have some experience, I'm no guru. If you or someone you know actually needs help you can MeMail me for contacts to actual gurus who are paid to provide support.

Good luck and I hope that was at least a little bit helpful.
posted by snsranch at 6:28 PM on September 7, 2012


Husband having filed a grievance with the MSPB and gone pro se before the regional judge, I know pretty much whereof I speak (having been in there 100% and seen it in action.) The system works. We were advised by one of the only 5 attorneys in the US (at that time) who work with MSPB cases to file pro se, as if the case goes badly, it can always be reopened with representing counsel after appeal (and loss) in the higher court. Could take a while, and you could starve to death before it's over, but the system does work. Judge tossed the case. No problem
posted by BlueHorse at 9:19 PM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


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