A modest proposal: Eliminate poor performers first

idle worker

Does this lazy fellow provide an alternative that could allow agencies to reduce their need for furloughs? (Stock image)

Instead of furloughing hard-working federal employees, why not eliminate underperformers or those who never show up?

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is posing just that question to the Office of Personnel Management. In a March 27 letter to OPM Director John Berry, Coburn said agency leaders could avoid sweeping furloughs by getting rid of employees who do not perform official duties or simply do not work at all.

"It makes little sense to furlough air traffic controllers and border patrol agents while retaining employees who are AWOL, on standby, not performing official duties, or sitting idle awaiting security clearances," wrote Coburn, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

According to Coburn, from 2001 to 2007, employees at 18 agencies were AWOL for at least 19.6 million hours. And in 2011, the government spent more than $155 million on 3.4 million hours -- or a year’s worth of work for more than 1,600 workers -- on employees who show up for work but perform duties unrelated to their agencies’ missions.

And in 2010 and 2011, Coburn said, at least 1,825 employees received standby pay totaling more than $13 million. "While it makes sense to have some on standby, such as employees at the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, others are less obvious, such as the standby employees at the Agricultural Marketing Service," Coburn wrote.

Furthermore, as many as 20 percent of intelligence contractors drew salaries while awaiting their security clearances. They were never given "meaningful work," yet cost the government $900 million to $1.8 billion a month in wasted contractor hours, Coburn said, citing a Federal Times report.

Targeting those areas could protect employees who perform truly essential agency missions, Coburn concluded. He asked Berry to provide details to the Senate committee on the cost of standby employees and the total amount the government pays for employees "to do nothing."

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Tue, Apr 16, 2013

Senator Coburn needs a lesson in conducting a Furlough in the federal government. There are civil service rules found in the Code of Federal Regulations which are put in place by the Legislative Branch on how Reductions in Force and Furloughs must be run. Performance is indicator. Whether your job is mission related also is part of the decision making process. So is your length of service. And whether or not you're a veteran. Whether you are routinely AWOL is not really a factor. Senator Coburn should be pushing for more effective management of the federal workforce. If those figures he posted are true, then we should be removing the management teams that allows a person to be on AWOL and not removed from their position. He should also be taking a large stick to the security people at federal agencies who make people go through the security process over and over again even though they have a current clearance. Ask a federal employee how long they've had to wait on a transfer from one agency to another because they had to "get through security." Most people who are bid on a proposal for Defense or Intelligence contracts are required to have a TS clearance before they can be bid as a resource. Companies spend a lot of time and effort recruiting people with these clearances. But then the government makes them go through another clearance process? Neither practice is cost-efficient.

Tue, Apr 2, 2013

The comment on the reserves is interesting, and apparently from someone who was never there. I was one of those folks who showed up and "did nothing", other than repair some electronics that the active duty did not have time to do and practice things like boatmanship and marksmanship, and fulfill other requirements mandated by congress. And Desert Storm was a vacation, I took a 60% pay cut and left home for 9 months, not a problem. The current issues? Have two co-workers who are reservists who were sent to the sand for three months, twice. Yeah, cut them worthless reserves, they do nothing.

On the topic, I can see the same folks who did not like NSPS not liking this. It implies that if you do not work hard, then you do not get rewarded which seems to be the way things are not suppose to be (even though I was taught to work hard and give value for what I get).

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 Beltway Bob

To eliminate the poor performers, you must define poor vs good, then measure it, and finally implement it. Pay for Performance (and all the like) have repeatedly dismissed, so you're a decade away from your idea becoming reality. ........ You're far more likely to die sitting in your GFE chair than be fired.

Mon, Apr 1, 2013

"Another modest proposal: Eliminate high performers first" - You do this by breaking the social contract which currently guarantees Fed lower wages than the private but, which can never be reduced, greater job security, and better benefits. Oh, wait April Fools! We are already doing that.

Mon, Apr 1, 2013

Can we get rid of the poor performers (R-Senate, R-House) too? Oh, I forgot, they are deemed by God to be SPECIAL and above all criticism.

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