Agency Chief Rebuffs Union Over Authority to More Quickly Fire Bad Employees

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Flickr User Chesapeake Bay Program

Misbehaving employees should be “held accountable” more quickly, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency wrote in a recent letter to a labor union, doubling down on her request for increased firing authority, which she initially pitched at a congressional hearing in June.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy drew the ire of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many EPA employees, when she told a House committee she would “welcome” legislation that enabled her to remove malfeasant workers more easily.

“Any way we can make these processes move more quickly, I’m all for it,” McCarthy told the House oversight committee. “But there is an administrative process we must follow.” Committee members had been pressing McCarthy on why serial porn watchers and a faux-CIA employee were able to stay at the agency for so long.

Karen Kellen, president of AFGE’s council representing EPA employees, wrote a letter to McCarthy in response those comments, noting that worker protections are intentionally designed to protect a non-partisan civil service. She also called for managers to perform at a higher level.

“Administrator McCarthy, we do not need to make it easier to fire employees,” Kellen wrote in July. “You need to hold your managers and senior staff accountable for their behavior. You need to take a hard look at the ‘country club’ mentality that exists within management.”

In a recent response to Kellen originally obtained by Federal News Radio, McCarthy defended her comments.

“In the context of the most serious and potentially dangerous situations of employee misconduct, I stated at the hearing that I would welcome a more timely process to terminate an employee, while protecting employee rights and due process,” McCarthy wrote. “Every employee, at every level, must be held accountable for her or his actions; no one gets a free pass.”

She added that she is committed to making the EPA a good place to work, and reaffirmed the agency’s “commitment to fostering the type of organization our dedicated and hardworking employees deserve.” She also pledged to provide EPA with “the leadership necessary to ensure that commitment,” and to continue to work with unions on a range of workforce initiatives.  

Despite the recent string of mischievous behavior, the EPA firing rate for discipline or performance has remained well below that for the federal government as a whole. The agency has fired about one in 1,000 employees each of the past five years, while the governmentwide rate is five times that. The EPA workforce has shrunk nearly 9 percent since 2009, however, one of the highest attrition rates of any government agency in that period.

(Image via Flickr user Chesapeake Bay Program)

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