A House Committee voted to advance a bill that would increase the probation period for most new federal employees. Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to send the Ensuring a Qualified Civil Service Act to the full House for consideration.
Introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the legislation would increase the probationary period for new hires to the competitive service and Senior Executive Service from one to two years and that would exempt time spent training new feds from that timetable.
“A longer probationary period gives agencies the time they need to ensure that candidates will be able to successfully carry out the functions of the position they’re seeking,” he said. “Two years—plus any time spent in formal training—allows agencies to properly assess the performance of new hires before their appointment to federal civil service. One year simply is not enough time.”
The Government Managers Coalition, which includes Senior Executives Association and other groups representing federal managers, support the bill.
“The GMC’s mission is to promote good government initiatives throughout the federal government. We believe that this legislation will allow employees sufficient time on the job to demonstrate their abilities as well as allow for proper assessment. The measure will ensure that supervisors have the opportunity and authority to fulfill their performance management responsibilities that may not be feasible under the current one-year probationary period,” the coalition wrote in a letter to the oversight committee.
There has been some pushback from Democrats on the committee. They said the proposal would erode federal employees due process rights and argued there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prompt such a change in how the government hires and evaluates new employees.
“We have had no hearings on the actual impact of the change, which undermines due process rights, harms whistleblower protections, and could hurt recruitment and retention efforts,” ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said. “It would be double the time with which federal employees have limited due process rights when they can be fired without 30 days’ notice, when they have limited rights to an attorney or representative, and they cannot their removal. This is a step toward the dangerous dream of making all federal workers at will employees.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) said he wasn’t opposed to Comers’ proposal, but he wanted to learn more about the potential impact on hiring and employee evaluations. “This might be a good idea, but we don’t really know that yet,” Connolly said. “There are a lot of unanswered questions about the efficacy of this proposal. I’m concerned about its potential impact on recruiting the workforce of the future since some 40% of the federal workforce will soon be eligible for retirement…I’d like to see the evidence to see if making the probationary period two years is materially different, and what are the good and bad impacts.”
Comer did say that the Government Accountability Office reported on complaints from some federal managers about the current probation period being too short, and some agencies (i.e. DOD), already evaluate new hires for the first two years on the job.
“The need for a longer probationary period isn’t new—federal managers groups have advocated for an extended probationary period for more than a decade,” he said. “Most Americans would agree that Congress punts, delays, and kicks the can down the road on far too many issues.”