GAO: It Can Take More Than A Year To Fire A Permanent Federal Employee

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AP/Bradly C. Bower

It can take more than a year to dismiss a poor performing federal employee, according to the Government Accountability Office.

A new GAO report released Monday reveals just how difficult it is for the federal government to address subpar performance among its employees.

“The time and resource commitment needed to remove a poor performing permanent employee can be substantial,” the GAO report reads. “It can take six months to a year (and sometimes longer) to dismiss an employee. According to selected experts and GAO’s literature review, concerns over internal support, lack of performance management training, and legal issues can also reduce a supervisor’s willingness to address poor performance.”

GAO found that while federal employees’ jobs are protected in a variety of ways, there are three avenues necessary to deal with poor performance namely day-to-day feedback, probationary periods for new employees, and formal dismissals — which are time consuming by design.

The report found that while most of the 3,500 dismissals in 2013 occurred during the probationary period, agencies need to make better use of the time. Probationary employees are not shielded by the protections of an average federal employee, for example in most cases cannot appeal their dismissal.

“According to the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) that GAO interviewed, supervisors often do not use this time to make performance-related decisions about an employee’s performance because they may not know that the probationary period is ending or they have not had time to observe performance in all critical areas,” the report notes.

It becomes vastly more difficult to dismiss a poor performing employee after their probationary period.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, expressed frustration at the report’s findings, stressing that agencies must do a better job weeding out poor performers earlier on.

“It is unacceptable that some agencies let the first year slip by without conducting performance reviews, never aware that the probationary period had expired,” he said. “The federal government cannot use tax dollars effectively if it does not hire, train and keep effective supervisors.”

GAO made four recommendations to the Office of Personnel Management, including extending probationary periods and and providing supervisors with more notification about the end of the period.