Bad career moves
- By Milt x_Zall
- Apr 10, 2000
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.
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.