When it comes to getting rid of bad employees, a private sector worker is more likely to be fired than a public sector, or government, worker. The reason why has been illustrated for Congress by then-OPM director Donald J. Devine:
They listed every possible step a manager had to take to fire an incompetent federal employee using old computer paper. [Devine] often rolled that paper out for congressional committees.
“It was a demonstration of, if someone chooses to follow every single twist and turn in the regulations, this is how it could turn out,” [former OPM executive assistant director for communications and policy Patrick] Korten said.
It stretched 30 feet.
Due to an increase in power by federal unions and the failure of both parties to tackle the issue, the roll would likely be much longer than 30 feet today.
Devine noted the outdated system in his July 15, 2014 testimony to Congress:
Not only do managers who try to remove poor performers have to face the administrative procedures in their own large agencies, even department decisions can be appealed to several different boards and many even reach the Court of Appeals.
The Merit System Protection Board alone heard 155 performance appeals in 2012, up 41 percent from the preceding year. Appeals can also be made through agency grievance procedures to the Federal Labor Relations Authority or to the EEOC. Understandably, few managers are willing to fight this Byzantine system.
And just what are the odds of being fired for public sector versus private sector workers?
The odds are one-in-175 for the IRS audit and one-in-200 for the drunk driving arrest, while the odds for a federal employee to be fired in a given year are one-in-500 according to the Government Accountability Office. The rate is higher for employees who are in the one-year probationary period that follows their hiring.
Private sector workers face just the opposite situation. They have a roughly one-in-77 chance of being involuntarily terminated — the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t distinguish between fires and layoffs — in a given month.
Examples of this kind of red tape preventing the dismissal of bad federal employees have made headlines for years:
- Disgraced GSA executive Jeff Neely allowed to retire with benefits
- Second GSA executive Paul Prouty reinstated and given back pay
- IRS official Lois Lerner, at the heart of scandal, retired with ongoing compensation
The larger the government expands and the more power it is given, the harder it becomes to correct problems due to all the bureaucracy that comes with it.