On Friday, May 25, President Trump continued to “drain the swamp” by signing three new Executive Orders designed to allow the swifter removal of underperforming government workers, ensure that taxpayer-funded union expenditures are subjected to higher accountability standards, and require a common-sense approach to collective bargaining in government employment. Given that over 2,100,000 people presently work for the federal government, the overhaul of discipline and union policies will enable substantial changes to the currently bloated, and often turgid, personnel bureaucracies throughout the system.
First, in a move that takes square aim against venal/incompetent/AWOL federal government workers, the new EO entitled “Executive Order Promoting Accountability and Streamlining Removal Procedures Consistent with Merit System Principles” cuts the time it now takes to fire a chronically unfit employee from six months to a year – the current timeline in agencies that have a 120-day waiting period – down to a 30-day period for such workers to demonstrate improvement after being warned of deficiencies. For example, a Post Office employee fired both for using cocaine on her lunch break (which resulted in a felony conviction) and for bringing illegal drugs onto government property, was reinstated by the Merit Systems Protection Board after a mere 90-day suspension. In addition, layoff determinations will now emphasize quality of performance over seniority.
Second, in the EO entitled “Executive Order Developing Efficient, Effective, and Cost-Reducing Approaches to Federal Sector Collective Bargaining,” the President directs federal agencies to renegotiate their contracts with public sector unions to cut down on waste. For example, in some instances, the government pays expenses on both sides of a labor appeal, even though unions often have their own resources to pay for such work on the employee side. The government will also publish collective bargaining contracts online so that the American people can gauge for themselves the government’s efficiency at negotiating these agreements.
Third, the EO entitled “Executive Order Ensuring Transparency, Accountability, and Efficiency in Taxpayer Funded Union Time Use” curbs abuses of government-paid union activities. Presently, for example, some government workers – including one physician in a VA hospital – spend 100% of their time on union activities at government expense, while the government has to contract for additional labor to cover their job duties. Federal employees may now spend no more than 25% of their paid time on union activities, a change estimated to save some $100 million annually. The order also provides that government agencies charge rent to unions occupying federal government space.
In each case, the Executive Orders leave substantial flexibility for individual government agencies and departments to set rules that are appropriate for the agency, within the bounds of existing labor and civil service laws. Currently, it is extremely difficult to fire employees from the civil service, even after felony convictions. On the collective bargaining side, contracts currently may take years to be negotiated, and substantial waste is built into the system, coupled with a lack of transparency to the public both of the process of collective bargaining, and of its substantive effects.
Dr. Jeff T.H. Pon, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (“OPM”), hailed the new orders as promoting government efficiency and accountability:
These Executive Orders are about protecting taxpayers’ dollars, including those of our dedicated federal employees, and putting those resources to use in the most efficient and effective way possible,” stated Director Pon. “By holding poor performers accountable, reforming the use of taxpayer-funded union time, and focusing negotiations on issues that matter, we are advancing our efforts to elevate the federal workforce. The vast majority of our employees are dedicated public servants who are dedicated to their missions and service to the American people. It is essential that we honor their commitment, and these measures reflect just that. Looking ahead, our focus will be on continuing to leverage technology to digitize our federal human resources infrastructure, build modern public human resources systems for the 21st century, and celebrate the hardworking federal employees who serve our great Nation each and every day.