Kelley Criticizes House Effort to Make Many Veteran Federal Employees "Probationary"


 4/12/11: Just days after federal employees dodged furloughs due to the inability of Congress to pass appropriations bills, they find themselves the unfair object of attacks on two fronts in the House of Representatives, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley said yesterday.

President Kelley was highly critical of efforts to move legislation through the House Oversight and Government Reform that would require federal employees who owe taxes to be fired, no matter the reason. The committee vote on H.R. 828—which would apply that penalty to federal employees, with members of Congress exempting themselves—is scheduled for Wednesday.

At the same time, and without benefit of a hearing, another piece of anti-federal employee legislation introduced only last Friday also is scheduled to be marked up by the committee on Wednesday.

That bill, H.R. 1470, would extend to a minimum of two years the probationary period for newly-hired federal employees and would impose additional two-year probationary periods on current employees every time they receive a transfer, are reassigned, promoted or demoted. The new restrictions would apply to all federal employees, including managers and preference-eligible veterans.

“This is nothing more than part of a larger ongoing assault against federal employees,” said President Kelley. “There is no compelling basis for either of these bills and it is an insult to federal employees to try and fast-track them without an airing of the issues through hearings.”

Kelley added: “With another possible furlough situation still on the horizon for this Friday, when the current government funding bill runs out, the federal workforce doesn’t need these cynical attacks.”

While probationary periods currently may be set at two years or more, most positions have a one-year probationary period. Probationary employees have no right to challenge firings before the Merit Systems Protection Board on the basis they are not consistent with law.

The one-year period provides federal managers with sufficient time to gauge the performance of new hires. “There is no reason to extend it, nor is there any reason to apply a new probationary period to current federal employees. In fact, under this new system, it is likely that a talented and hard-working federal employee who moves up the career ladder, and moves around the government, could spend much of his or her career in probationary status,” Kelley said.

In this letter to committee members, she said “a much more productive approach” would be to focus on the training necessary to improve the ability of supervisors to understand and apply performance management systems.

That could be done, President Kelley wrote to lawmakers, by taking up bipartisan legislation from the last session of Congress—H.R. 5522, introduced by Rep. James Moran (Va.), and S. 674, introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka (Hawaii)—that would address shortcomings in supervisor and managerial training in the federal sector.

With respect to H.R. 828, Kelley said in this separate letter that using notice of a lien as the trigger for termination is inappropriate since that is not a final determination of tax liability, “and is thus far too uncertain a standard upon which to base their employment.”

The NTEU leader added: “As with any matter dealing with taxes, each and every individual’s tax situation is unique and is likely more complicated than it appears. There are, after all, a variety of extenuating circumstances—divorce and its aftermath, serious illness, loss of a job and significant financial difficulties—that can play into the existence of a tax debt.”

While NTEU firmly believes that every federal employee should pay his or her taxes in a timely fashion, Kelley said, firing those who owe back taxes, while exempting members of Congress from that threat, is unjust, and would only serve to increase the likelihood that the government will never receive the taxes it is owed.

“Congress would seem to have plenty on its plate in working toward job creation and furthering our economic recovery rather than going after federal employees who deliver critical services that keep this country moving forward,” President Kelley said.