Bad career moves

Lying on a federal job application can ruin your federal career, the U.S.

Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently decided.

The case involved William Austen, who was fired in 1991 from the Department

of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fayetteville, Ark. The Office of Personnel

Management on Nov. 29, 1991, barred Austen from competitive federal employment

for three years for falsifying his job application.

Before being barred, Austen had applied for another government job,

at the U.S. Postal Service, and was hired on Sept. 7, 1991. At the time,

the Postal Service was unaware of OPM's decision. When Austen's history

came to light two years later, he was fired.

But Austen was persistent.

When filling out another federal application on Sept. 27, 1996, Austen

answered "Yes" to question 11, which read: "During the last five years,

were you fired from any job for any reason; did you quit after being told

that you would be fired; did you leave any job by mutual agreement because

of specific problems; or were you debarred from federal employment by the

Office of Personnel Management? If "Yes,' use item 15 to provide the date,

an explanation of the problem and reason for leaving, and the employer's

name and address."

Although Austen answered "Yes," and revealed that OPM had barred him

from federal employment for three years beginning in November 1991, he did

not mention that the Postal Service had fired him in 1993. When he completed

a second application on Jan. 11, 1997, he said he had not been fired from

any job within the past five years.

Austen applied for a job as a food inspector with the Agriculture Department

on April 15, 1997, but did not get hired because of discrepancies and omissions

on his employment forms. OPM subsequently barred Austen again for three

years. He appealed this determination to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The MSPB concluded that Austen knowingly and intentionally falsified

and omitted relevant information on his application, and the board upheld

OPM's action. Austen appealed this finding to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

He argued that the applications he filled out requested only that he provide

information regarding removals "during the last five years" and that he

"followed the instruction." However, his removal from USPS occurred well

within the five-year limitation.

The court ruled that if you falsify an employment application, you can't

be trusted and therefore it's acceptable for OPM to bar you from federal

employment [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, 99-3443 Jan.

12, 2000].

What is significant is the court's determination that falsifying an

application for a federal job renders you unfit for any federal job. That's

heavy stuff. In Austen's case, he was clearly trying to finagle his way

into a government job and got what he deserved. But the court did not make

any distinctions in its ruling. Any falsification, no matter how innocent,

is cause for dismissal. I trust and hope you get the message.

— Zall is a retired federal employee who since 1987 has written the Bureaucratus

column for Federal Computer Week.

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