Bill to limit appeals, make new hires ‘at-will’ federal employees reappears in the House

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) finally re-introduced legislation that would classify all new federal hires as “at-will” employees.

Rokita introduced similar legislation last September, but the bill ultimately died in the previous session of Congress. Yet the congressman indicated that he planned to reintroduce the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency (PAGE) Act during the 115th Congress, stirring immediate opposition from federal employee groups and unions.

Much of the legislation would apply to federal employees hired on or after one year of the bill’s enactment.

“Such employee may be removed or suspended, without notice or right to appeal, from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed for good cause, bad cause or no cause at all,” the legislation said.

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At-will employees could appeal a removal, suspension or demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board or the Office of Special Counsel, with some limitations.

“An employee or applicant for employment may appeal an adverse personnel action only to a single agency and may not thereafter bring any appeal pertaining to such dismissal before any other agency,” the legislation said.

Each agency would be asked to develop their own standards for implementing the provisions in the bill. Specifically, agencies would determine how they’ll plan to notify employees of an at-will status, which senior officials would have the authority to remove at-will workers from federal service and how they’ll ensure those employees aren’t fired or disciplined for discrimination.

The American Federation of Government Employees in January began to educate its members about the PAGE Act, arguing that the bill would politicize the civil service.

Some provisions in the PAGE Act aren’t new. Members of Congress have introduced other bills with similar messages in the past, but the PAGE Act perhaps goes further than previous attempts in the name of accountability.

The harshest provisions would target new hires, but other provisions in the PAGE Act would impact current employees and senior executives.

Immediate suspensions

Agency heads could choose to immediately suspend a current employee for misconduct or poor performance, the legislation said.

The agency must give employees a written notice detailing the specific reasons for the suspension, no later than 10 days after the first day of the suspension itself.

Only after the suspension could employees respond and provide evidence in their support, obtain a lawyer and then review the agency’s final case.

Employees could also appeal the disciplinary action to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Pay raises

The legislation also bars federal employees from receiving an annual pay raise in some situations.

Employees must receive at least a 4 out of 5 rating on a performance evaluation, for example, to receive a bump in pay.

Overall, at least 50 percent of all employees within an agency must receive a 4 out of 5 or an equivalent rating on their performance evaluations to receive a pay raise in any given year.

In addition, the legislation asks that the Office of Personnel Management submit recommendations to Congress for a single-agency rating system.

Convicted felons

Current employees convicted of a felony that is “related to the performance of any position within the service” would have to give up part of their retirement annuity.

Specifically, the time of creditable service where the employee committed a crime would no longer count toward or his or her annuity, the bill said.

The provision would also apply to employees if they retire or resign from federal service.

Senior executives

The legislation also gives agency heads the authority to transfer current employees from the Senior Executive Service to the General Schedule, but it gives no reason for why a department leader might choose to make such a decision.

Senior executives who get transferred would also receive pay associated with their new position on the General Schedule.

Official time

Finally, the bill puts some limitations on official time.

Federal employees could only do union work if they’re designated as performing in a non-duty status. The legislation also clarifies that employees who do solicit new membership, collect dues or engage in union election activity must maintain records of that work for up to two years or for the term of the collective bargaining unit.

The legislation discourages employees from using government property, such as offices, space or computers, for union work.

Those records will be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Other lawmakers have proposed similar bills and provisions in attempt to limit official time or gain more insight into how much official time employees are using.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to vote on one of those bills this week. The committee will consider legislation that would require OPM to submit an annual report to Congress on official time use among all federal employees.

Bargaining unit employees used slightly more official time in fiscal 2014 compared to two years prior, according to OPM’s most recent report on the topic.  Bargaining unit employees spent 3,468,170 hours on official time in fiscal 2014, a 0.84 percent increase over fiscal 2012’s total. Employees individually also spent 2.88 hours on official time in 2014 — more than the 2.81 hour rate two years earlier.