Will Federal Workers Soon Become “At-Will” Employees?

Aug 4, 2017


Congressman Todd Rokita (R-IN) recently introduced the Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency Act. This would make federal workers “at-will” employees. It allows federal employees to be removed or suspended “without notice or right to appeal from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed, for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all”.

Much of this proposed legislation would apply to federal employees hired on or after one year of the bill’s enactment.

“At-will” employees could appeal a removal, suspension, or demotion to the Merit Systems Protection Board of the Office of Special Counsel, with some limitations. “An employee or applicant for employment may appeal an adverse personnel action only to a single agency and may not thereafter bring an appeal pertaining to such dismissal before any other agency”, the legislation says.

Under this legislation, each agency would develop their own standards for implementing the provisions in the bill. Specifically, agencies would determine how they’ll plan to notify employees of an “at-will” status. And senior officials would have the authorization to remove “at-will” workers from federal service and how they’ll ensure those employees aren’t fired or disciplined for discrimination.

Immediate Suspensions

This bill would allow agency heads to immediately suspend federal employees for misconduct or poor performance “if the head determines that the misconduct or performance of the employee warrants such suspension”. The agency must give the employee a written notice detailing specific reasons for the suspension, no later than 10 days after the first day of the suspension. Only after the suspension could the employee respond and provide evidence in their support, get a lawyer, and then review the agency’s final case.

Pay Raises

This legislation would prohibit annual pay raises if an employee didn’t receive at least a score of 4 or 5 out of 5 (or equivalent rating with respect to a performance appraisal system that does provide for such a scoring system) on their latest performance review under the performance appraisal system. Further, at least 50 percent of all employees in the agency must receive a 4 out of 5, or equivalent, rating on performance evaluations to receive a pay raise in any given year.

Convicted Felons

Current employees convicted of a felony that’s “related to the performance of any position with the service” would give up part of their retirement annuity. More specifically, the time of creditable service where the employee committed the felony would no longer count toward their annuity. This provision also applies to employees if they retire or resign from federal service.

Senior Executives

An agency may transfer an employee occupying a Senior Executive Service position who isn’t an at-will employee to a position with the General Schedule. Any Senior Executive who is transferred would also receive pay associated with their new position on the General Schedule.

Official Time

Finally, the bill would not authorize official time for an employee serving as an exclusive representative when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, and that employee would be prohibited from using government property in carrying out any activities relating to the internal business of a labor organization.

Federal employees could only do union work if designated as performing in a nonduty status. It also states that employees who do solicit new membership, collect dues, or engage in union election activity must maintain records of that work for up to two years or for the term of the collective bargaining unit.

Those records would be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Rokita introduced similar legislation previously, but it failed to advance through Congress. There has also been immediate opposition from employee groups and unions.

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