Rep. Mica's proposal is not fed-friendly

Federal employees should take notice when the chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Service drafts legislation that is patently unfriendly to their interests. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) has included some troubling provisions in a draft version of civil service reform legislation that should interest readers of this column. I would advise readers to review it and express their views to their congressional representatives.

Mica's proposal would restrict the government from hiring people with drug-related convictions on their record, establish separate retention registers for employees with inferior performance records, limit appeals on decisions to forego some pay increases, limit the use of performance improvement plans and establish a new retirement investment fund.

One provision would prohibit the government from hiring anyone who has had a felony conviction for possession, use or sale of illegal narcotics within 10 years of application for employment. Anyone convicted of misdemeanor narcotics violations within five years of application would also be ineligible for federal employment.

In my opinion, legislation barring these people from federal employment appears not only unwise but unconstitutional. Obviously, a criminal record is not an asset to anyone's employment prospects, but people can and do change. In addition, this provision essentially would penalize for a second time those who have already paid for their mistakes. Also, denying employment to those individuals would probably increase the likelihood that they would return to a life of crime.

If an individual with a previous drug conviction applies for a federal job, I think the selecting official should be very careful in reviewing the applicant's record. But if the selecting official is willing to take a chance on such an individual, I believe he should have that prerogative.

Retention Registers

Another section of Mica's proposal would establish separate retention registers for "poor performers." Retention registers are lists that are used during reductions in force (RIFs) to determine which employees will lose their jobs first.

Mica would establish a second retention register for employees who receive less than fully successful performance ratings. This would ensure that poor performers receive less retention consideration than good performers with less seniority.

I do not believe this is the correct way to deal with performance problems. There are rules governing who stays and who goes during RIFs, and these rules already take into account seniority and performance. Placing a poor performer on a separate retention register would penalize that employee twice.

In addition, such a system would lend itself to abuse. Managers looking to get rid of an employee would seek to bypass established remedies in favor of having the employee placed on a separate register where he would receive less retention consideration.

The proposed legislation also would eliminate an employee's right to appeal management decisions to limit the within-grade pay increases that GS-level employees receive at scheduled intervals. Employees would no longer be able to appeal these decisions to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), and only administrative review within the agency would remain.

Although I am not a fan of the MSPB, it is better than nothing at all. Administrative review within the agency would not help a federal employee who has rankled his superiors. These employees should be permitted to appeal a decision outside of their agency, where they stand a better chance of receiving a fair hearing. Slamming the door shut on this avenue of appeal reveals an inherent lack of understanding of the federal workplace.

Mica also would alter how agencies apply performance improvement plans (PIPs), in which managers spell out for poor performers exactly how they must improve if they are to be retained as an employee. Mica's provision would limit the number of PIPs necessary before management can remove an employee.

Again, there seems to be a rush-to-justice mentality at work here. Managers must give employees an opportunity to improve, and the number of PIPS given to an employee depends on the specific circumstances surrounding that employee's performance. I don't think it is useful or wise to establish an arbitrary limit on this process.

Sometimes the real problems at the workplace are due to poor supervision, as opposed to poor employee performance. I am not in favor of decreasing existing safeguards that protect employees from mismanagement by incompetent supervisors.

Finally, the legislation would establish a retirement investment fund, beginning in 2002, into which a portion of federal retirement receipts would be invested. The assets of the retirement fund would be invested in stocks and bonds in the same proportion as funds are allocated into the C, G and F funds of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).

Currently, funds in the Civil Service Retirement System and the Federal Employee Retirement System are invested in government bonds, and investing these funds in the stock market would be a controversial move. And I think it would be a mistake to believe you can make wise investment decisions by using a formula based on the way funds are allocated within the TSP. Using such a rigid formula for controlling such investments is sheer lunacy, and privately managed investment funds rarely employ such an approach.

-- Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who contributes regularly to Federal Computer Week.

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