House Republicans Want to Make It Easier to Fire All Senior Executive Service Employees

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Associated Press

House Republicans have put forward a new measure to ease the disciplining and firing of senior executives across government, saying the measure will bring increased accountability to agencies’ top career employees.

The Senior Executive Service Accountability Act -- introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and cosponsored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. -- would bring sweeping changes to SES oversight. Issa’s committee will vote on the legislation Thursday.

The bill would make senior executives eligible for 14-day suspensions without pay, bringing them in line with most non-SES federal employees. Another provision would add a category for cause to fire an SES employee.

Currently, senior executives can be fired for three reasons: misfeasance, or poor performance; malfeasance, or misconduct; and nonfeasance, or the failure to complete assigned duties. The bill would add a fourth, more broad, reason, labeled as “such cause as would promote the efficiency of the service.” Employees receiving a negative personnel action would receive just 15 days’ notice, half of the 30 days they currently receive.

The legislation would extend the probationary period for all senior executives from one year to two. Many of the procedural hurdles that prevent agencies from immediately firing senior executives do not apply when the employees are in their probationary periods.

The bill would require each agency to provide a written justification for each SES position it maintains, including the “specific result expected from each position.” Each agency would also have to deliver to all SES-ers a written description of the employee’s performance requirements, 30 days before each rating period.

Finally, the bill would create “mandatory leave” for senior executives who have received written notice of a pending termination, in which the employees would receive pay but would not be able to perform any duties. They would be required to use their accrued annual leave for the period of their absence, while not accruing any new leave. If a negative action were later successfully appealed, the leave would be given back.

The Senior Executives Association said it was still reviewing the bill, but that it certainly had concerns with it. SEA was vehemently against a House-backed bill that would largely remove due process protections for senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department. That measure is currently a part of negotiations between the House and Senate to overhaul VA.  

A previous Government Executive analysis found fewer than one federal senior executive out of every 1,000 gets fired annually, and that SESers are about nine times less likely to be terminated than non-manager General Schedule workers. Advocates have argued the senior executives are tried and tested, and they are therefore less likely to deserve firings.

The Oversight subcommittee on the federal workforce held a hearing earlier in July, in which members of both parties called for reforms to the SES. 

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