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?

A Playbook for User-Centered Hiring

A new analysis of government hiring found the “very people they need to make government more responsive to the public are the people driven away by the poor user experience.” …  Hiring managers routinely complain about the lack of qualified candidates for positions. Code for America saw this as a problem because in order for governments to serve the American public in the 21st century, the nonprofit believes governments need to be able to recruit 21st century talent. So, in the fall of 2016, Code for America started investigating ways governments could meet that challenge, by launching a talent initiative to study roadblocks governments face when trying to recruit the best talent for these positions. By interviewing 28 people in all parts of the job seeking process, from those who have a job in government to those considering a job in government, the study identified some common themes preventing good people from applying and getting jobs in government. For more, click here.

Do any of the common themes identified in this article prevent good people from applying and getting in your agency or organization? Would using a user-centered, data-driven approach to hiring help your agency better hire the employees it needs to accomplish its mission? If you were CHCO, how would you apply the information in this article to your organization’s hiring policies?

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?

Job Restructuring as Reasonable Accommodation

An often perplexing and frustrating area of the law for federal managers is disability discrimination and reasonable accommodations. As the law has evolved, so too has the federal workforce and employee medical impairments. More often today, employees–whether veterans suffering from the non-obvious mental impairments associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or aging federal workers plagued with a whole host of physiological maladies–cannot simply be accommodated with wheelchair ramps, ergonomic desk chairs, or adjusted schedules.

With the prevalence of physical and mental impairments in the workplace, it is easy for a federal manager to unknowingly discriminate against a disabled employee by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. To read this article, click here.

In part 2 of his series on job restructuring, the author explores how job restructuring could affect other employees. To read this follow-up article, click here.

In what ways have you seen your agency meet their reasonable accommodation responsibilities?

Have you seen co-workers asked to shoulder heavier workloads to accommodate a disabled employee? Has such action affected morale or accomplishment of the agency mission? How has management countered any unintended negative effects?

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.


Supervisors and Favoritism: Guilty, Innocent, or Something in Between?

According to results from MSPB’s 2011 Federal Merit Systems Survey, employees frequently suspect that supervisors “play favorites” and base their decisions on factors other than work-related criteria.1 So why does this happen? Do supervisors disregard their responsibilities under the Merit System Principles (MSPs) and provide unfair advantages for favored employees? Or do employees sometimes make incorrect assumptions?

Our research indicates that several factors frequently contribute to employee perceptions of favoritism:

  • Intentional favoritism. A supervisor knowingly provides an advantage to an applicant or employee based on inappropriate non-merit factors;
  • Unintentional favoritism. A supervisor takes an ill-advised action or makes a flawed decision absent intentional wrongdoing; and
  • Misinterpretation or misinformation. Employees or other observers may perceive favoritism even when a decision is truly merit-based, perhaps due to a lack of transparency or when the presence of a legitimate professional relationship leads to suspicion that a supervisor was influenced by non-merit factors.

Most Federal employees (59 percent) believe favoritism involves an intentional decision, motivated by the supervisor’s desire to value friendship or loyalty over competence. Intentional favoritism can occur when a supervisor rewards employees based on close, personal relationships or similarity to the supervisor or an employee’s ingratiation efforts.

Although cited less frequently than intentional favoritism, employees also noted the existence of factors that could lead to unintentional favoritism. Specifically, employees thought unintentional favoritism could be caused by a supervisor’s lack of knowledge or understanding (38 percent) or lack of good decision-making tools (32 percent). Unintentional favoritism can also occur through a mechanism similar to intentional bias but without the supervisor’s awareness. For example, a supervisor may demonstrate unconscious bias by unintentionally favoring employees with whom the supervisor feels a higher comfort level due to similarity in terms of factors such as culture, class, background, and experiences.

On other occasions, there may be a misperception by employees. Professional relationships may exist that do not conflict with the merit systems or a supervisor may justly provide more opportunities to those who demonstrate the ability and motivation to take on new roles. When asked to identify critical factors in their career advancement,2 85 percent of Federal employees identified “A supportive supervisor to encourage my development and advancement” and a “Senior person/mentor (other than my supervisor) looking out for my interests” as the two factors with the most positive impact on their career advancement. The fifth most popular response, which was expressed by 78 percent of the respondents, involved “Contacts who knew the selecting official and recommended me.” As a result, three of the top five reported influences on career advancement involved professional relationships between employees and another party who provided individualized attention and assistance. While the presence of supportive professional relationships does not necessarily indicate favoritism, supervisors should be aware of possible misperceptions regarding the fairness of their decisions after dealing with applicants who are known to them through personal or professional networks or when distributing scarce resources among employees.

A supervisor’s actions can be perceived as: 1) intentional favoritism; 2) unintentional favoritism; 3) reflecting both merit and favoritism, particularly when there is an existing professional or personal connection; or 4) simply merit-based. It is critical, therefore, for supervisors and observers to strive for a shared perspective that conforms to the high expectations of the merit system principles.


  1. Fifty-three percent of employees suspected supervisors in their organization demonstrated favoritism, while 28 percent thought their own supervisor was guilty of this.
  2. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Fair and Equitable Treatment: Progress Made and Challenges Remaining, 2009, pp. 47-50


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

Managers — Work with HR to Make Decisions in the Hiring Process

When you look at an overview of the typical Federal hiring process1, it is easy to understand why some view the process to be overly complex and lengthy. However, each of the steps is in place to achieve three goals:

  • to support the merit system principles, such as selecting on the basis of merit after fair and open competition;
  • to avoid the commission of prohibited personnel practices; and
  • to give selecting officials flexibilities and options.

In order to help ensure these goals are met—and that managers are satisfied with the hiring process (and outcomes)—hiring managers and HR should collaborate throughout each step of the hiring process.

The competitive examining process provides numerous opportunities for customization to fill a vacancy. These decisions must be made before issuing the vacancy announcement to avoid perceptions of “gaming the system” to provide an advantage to certain candidates. While HR has the responsibility for educating managers regarding their options and the implications of each choice, managers must understand that hiring a well-qualified employee requires an investment of their time and energy. Although working through the entire process may strike some hiring managers as “doing HR’s work for them,” managers should realize that this collaboration enables them to exercise their discretion throughout the hiring process, rather than have important decisions made for them.

Step 1: The selecting official should identify the knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that are needed to perform the work. These job requirements can be determined by reviewing current job analyses, classification standards, and past vacancy announcements, as well as by consulting with current job incumbents. Any new responsibilities of the position should also be considered. This information should be discussed with HR, who can assist in determining minimum qualifications and any selective placement factors as well as the number and criteria for the rating levels when category rating is used.

Step 2: The hiring manager should work with HR to develop an assessment strategy for the position2. This will be evaluated as well as methods for best assessing candidates on these criteria. One factor to consider in determining which competencies to evaluate is whether proficiency in such competencies is required to start the job or can be developed while on the job strategy should include determining which competencies The rigor, costs, time, and sequencing of the potential assessment methods also should be considered. A multiple hurdle assessment process is frequently used. Here, low-resource assessments (e.g., self-report questionnaires on an applicant’s training and experience3) typically come first and eliminate less-qualified applicants. Then, more labor-intensive procedures, such as the structured interview4, are applied only to the top candidates5.

Step 3: HR should advise the manager regarding the range of recruitment and hiring flexibilities that may be used. These may be widely accessible (e.g., veterans hiring authorities) or used only when meeting certain criteria (e.g., direct hire and recruitment incentives). HR and managers also should discuss administrative issues, such as how long to leave the vacancy announcement open. Many of these decisions will rely on past experience and success in attracting a highly qualified pool of applicants.

Designing the actual vacancy announcement with HR then can serve as a reality check to ensure that all of the essential decision points have been discussed since the vacancy announcement should include information such as a description of the duties, required qualifications, and the assessment process. Although this article focuses on a few of the most critical steps in the hiring process, there are many more decision points. Thus, we encourage managers to take advantage of the expertise of their HR and program support staff, to guide them through this journey to select the best prospective employees within the Federal merit systems.


1 U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Delegated Examining Unit Handbook, May 2007, p. 9, available at: http://www.opm. gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/ deo_handbook.pdf.

2 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Job Simulations: Trying out for a Federal Job, pp. 25-38, September 2009.

3 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Making the Right Connections: Targeting the Best Competencies for Training, February 2011.

4 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Evaluating Job Applicants: The Role of Training and Experience in Hiring, January 2014.

5 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, The Federal Selection Interview: Unrealized Potential, February 2003.


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

Good Customer Service or Pre-Selection?

In a recent article, Steve Oppermann discusses the Office of Special Counsel’s  successful prosecution of two HR specialists who were accused of engaging in a prohibited personnel practice (PPP) by attempting to help agency management pre-select a candidate for a vacancy. Mr. Oppermann discusses the fine line HR professionals walk line between providing good customer service and abetting management’s efforts to commit a PPP, adding that that it is hard to fault a manager for wanting to consider an employee who has done an excellent job for her/him.  In this fine article, Mr. Oppermann provides analysis of the decision and points out issues that HR specialists should be aware of as they perform their responsibilities as the day-to-day “gate-keepers” of Title V with their role as management consultants.

Office of Special Counsel Prosecutes HR Specialist for Allegedly Helping Agency Management Pre-Select a Candidate

What do you think?

P.S.  A followup article was also published regarding this Office of Special Counsel decision.

Office of Special Counsel Prosecutes HR Specialist for Allegedly Helping AGency Management Pre-Select a Candidate: The Sequel