Should the Government Fire More People and How Should They Do It?

Does the government fire enough people? Does it deal effectively with poor performers? Is the disciplinary and adverse action process effective?

At the risk of offending a few folks, I have to say the answer to all three questions is probably no. The government does not fire a large percentage of its employees in a typical year. The data is available in OPM’s excellent Fedscope tool. In Fiscal 2016, the number fired was 10,519. At the end of fiscal 2016 the government had 2,097,038 employees, so roughly 1 in 200  or 0.5% of employees were fired. If we look only at permanent employees, 9,579 of 1,951,334 employees were fired (1 in 204 or 0.49%). The VA fired 2,575 employees (1 in 145 or 0.69 percent) in FY2016.

Direct comparisons to the private sector are not easy, but if we compare the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) “layoff and discharge” rate we see that the private sector lays off or fires about 1.2 – 1.3 percent of employees. Government rates (adding in the small number of RIFs as well) are much lower than that of the private sector. However, the private sector numbers are lumping layoffs and discharges together, most likely because the line between those is often blurred. Companies often characterize removals as layoffs, while the government does not.

It is important to note that firing people is not the only measure of how agencies and companies deal with poor performance and misconduct. For more, click here.

Do you agree with Jeff Neal’s core principles for a governmentwide disciplinary/adverse action process? Why or why not? What would you add or subtract from the process?

Government Warms to Continuous Monitoring of Personnel with Clearances

Days after Navy contractor Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people during a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16, 2013, Pentagon officials acknowledged they had neglected to follow up on a Rhode Island police report the previous month showing that Alexis, who died in a shootout with police, had complained of hearing voices. That turned out to be just one of many red flags in Alexis’ background that Navy officials and security clearance investigators were not aware of prior to the tragedy. Since then, officials have worked to significantly strengthen the way clearances are granted and managed. For more, click here.

What do you think about using of software programs to more thoroughly vet employees and contractors? What about continuously monitoring those who hold security clearances using social media? Are the such risks to privacy justified by the results?

Unconscious Bias and Its Impact on the Workplace

In article, Review of Unconscious Bias, the author states, that “bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences. The types of biases are conscious bias (also known as explicit bias) and unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias). Biases are not limited to ethnicity and race and may exist toward or from any social group.” For more, click here.

How have you seen this play out in your workplace? Has such bias affected the accomplishment of your unit or agency mission? How has it affected you directly?

The Federal Civil Service Hiring System Is Out of Balance

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the system for hiring into the Federal civil service. Perhaps it is worth examining how well the Government is living up to what I call the four core values of that system. They are:

  1. Hiring must be merit-based, with selection “determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills.”
  2. There must be “fair and open competition” for Federal jobs “which assures that all receive equal opportunity.”
  3. The Government should “endeavor to achieve a workforce from all segments of society.”
  4. Military veterans shall receive preference for Federal jobs[1].

Few would argue with the wisdom of these values in the abstract, but in practice, the first three values appear underemphasized.

Before looking at outcomes in federal hiring, however, it is worthwhile to recount how the environment for Federal hiring has changed in recent decades. Key changes include: …..

To continue reading this article, click here.


Use Data, Not Assumptions, to Improve the Customer Experience

Agency leaders and the citizens they serve are not always on the same page.

Most federal leaders assume they understand the needs and problems of those coming to them for assistance, whether it’s veterans, businesses, college students, senior citizens or others who rely on the government for help. But they do not always have data to justify those assumptions about their customers.

A new report from the Partnership for Public Service and Accenture Federal Services, “Government for the People: The road to customer-centered services,” examined agency efforts to implement a customer-centered approach, and found many challenges. At the same time, the report offers examples of successes that can be replicated across government.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Who are the customers you, as an HR practitioner, serve? How could you use data to improve their performance? What data would you use and how would you collect it?

Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

Given the current environment in the federal HR world, it is increasingly difficult to manage the demands of work. In this article, Harvard Business Review provides some suggestions that can be employed by both the supervisor and the individual employee.

Help Your Team Manage Stress, Anxiety, and Burnout

What do you think? Which of these recommendations do you think would be helpful in your work environment? Which are unrealistic? What do you think your supervisor would say if you forwarded this article to him/her?



In HR We Trust?

In these two FedSmith articles, Steve Oppermann discusses the necessity for trust between supervisors/managers and those in the HR office.

In Human Resources We Trust? In part I of this article, Steve focuses on what managers and supervisors have to gain from developing and maintaining relationships of trust with HR specialists.

In HR We Trust? Part II – The Other Side of the Trust Coin – HR Building Relationships with Managers and Supervisors. In Part II of this article, Steve discusses the other side of the coin, that is, whether HR employees have anything to gain from developing and maintaining relationships of trust with supervisors and managers.

What do you think? What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of working hard to build relationships between managers and supervisors and HR practitioners? Is it worth the cost?

Federal HR Skills Gaps

On Human Resources Executive Online, Julie Donaldson of cyberFEDS, writes that human resources has been identified as one of five mission-critical occupations in the government with skills gaps. In her article, Ms. Donaldson reports on how Federal officials describe various “high return and low financial investment” programs they have instituted to increase access to training and enhance career-development opportunities for employees.

Addressing Federal HR Skills Gaps

In another article on, Robert Dietrich states that, “The patient is federal human resources where the necessary investment in training for new and existing employees is not taking place, and the ability to hire and retain excellent new employees is being severely hampered…”

An Ever-Widening Skills Gap

Do you believe that the skills gaps that these authors identify still exist within the federal HR community? Are there any ideas discussed in these articles that you believe would help close the HR skills gaps at your agency? Why? Are you aware of any other creative methods by which federal HR practitioners are receiving the training they need to be successful on the job?

How You Hire and Who You Hire: The Implications of the Appointing Authority

The first merit principle states that “recruitment should be from qualified individuals from appropriate sources in an endeavor to achieve a workforce from all segments of society…which assures all receive equal opportunity.” 1 This idea of fair and open competition for filling jobs is fundamental to Federal merit systems. The methods that agencies choose to hire new employees (that is, which hiring authorities they use) can affect the extent to which this merit principle is made a reality. These choices may have far-reaching consequences for the future composition of the Federal workforce.

As part of their upcoming report on fair and open competition, MSPB reviewed hiring data from the Central Personnel Data File (CPDF). The review revealed a trend that needed to be brought to the attention of Federal agencies and hiring managers. In 2000, 43% of the employees newly hired into the Federal government were female. By 2012, the proportion of newly hired employees who were female had dropped to 37%—a 6 percentage point decrease in new female hires.

Many factors affect the proportion of women in the applicant pool and, ultimately, the representation of women among new hires. As discussed in our 2011 report Women in the Federal Government: Ambitions and Achievements, there are many occupations in the American labor force in which men or women predominate. This is evident in competitive examining and student hiring, where males represented most of the new hires into the information technology, engineering, and police officer occupations (males accounted for 80%, 83%, and 92% of the new hires into these occupations, respectively).3 It is also evident in the direct hire authority, where women were hired more frequently into nursing occupations.

However, occupation does not explain everything. Choice of appointing authority matters, too, as illustrated in the figure below. Most of the methods used to hire new employees in 2012 resulted in a greater proportion of males than females entering the Federal workforce. This disparity is most notable for the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act (VEOA) and Veterans’ Recruitment Appointment (VRA) authorities, which is not surprising given that the active duty military is over 80% male.4 Our research shows that as use of veterans hiring authorities increased, the percentage of female new hires decreased. In addition, we found over 35% of those hired under competitive examining were veterans.

Gender of New Hires by Appointing Authority 2012

An over-reliance on too few hiring authorities may not be healthy for an organization’s culture, as those authorities may not result in a workforce that is representative of society. Agencies should take care when hiring the majority of their employees through just one or two authorities that limit eligibility to a particular segment of society. Our upcoming report on fair and open competition will discuss in depth the implications of appointing authorities for open competition and workforce diversity.

Reprinted from Issues of Merit, a publication of the Office of Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board