Federal Coach

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Federal Coach: Why do so many ‘slugs’ keep their jobs?

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

This week’s question comes from a former federal employee who wants to know why so many non-performing federal employees are allowed to keep their jobs. Please continue sharing your questions, ideas and suggestions by commenting below or sending an email to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org.

While I was surprised to hear about President Obama’s recent comment that some federal workers are slugs and not trying to do their jobs, as a former federal employee I tend to agree with him. Why are so many non-performing employees allowed to stay in their jobs? Former federal employee, GS-12

While the president’s overheard private remarks were unfortunate, it’s important to hear his whole message about federal employees:

President Obama said, “What's striking when you enter into the federal government is how generally smart and dedicated people are.” The president also noted that some federal employees “are slugs and not trying to do their job. But that's true of any large institution.”

Working with poor performers in any sector is difficult. However, given the decrease in the public's trust in government, I fear that concerns about poor performers have taken on mythical proportions.

In fact, supervisors fire between 8,000 and 10,000 federal employees every year because of poor performance or misconduct, according to government data. This is less than four percent of the total workforce, and that proactive management can help many improve their performance. In addition, a survey of federal managers by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board suggests that besides those who are formally terminated, there are a sizable number of employees who voluntarily leave after they are counseled that their performance is unacceptable.

Although the process is complex, there are rules in place across government allowing for the dismissal of workers not passing muster--and they should be used. You might also consider checking out a column that I wrote last April offering federal supervisors some practical steps for dealing with poor performers.

With Public Service Recognition Week (May 1-7) almost upon us, it’s important to remember that our federal workers are dedicated hardworking Americans. They may be anonymous, but they regularly make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. They are working on issues that directly affect all of us, from shoring up the economy and the financial system to providing better health care, protecting the environment, and keeping our food and drug supplies safe.

During that private conversation, the president also praised feds saying, “Generally speaking, he would put up federal workers against any workers in the private sector.” That’s a key message to deliver to your employees during Public Service Recognition Week.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Apr 25, 2011 at 12:12 PM


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