House Narrowly Passes Bill to Extend Feds’ Probationary Period

Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said the proposal would make it easier to ensure that the federal government is a haven for only the best and brightest public servants. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said the proposal would make it easier to ensure that the federal government is a haven for only the best and brightest public servants. J. Scott Applewhite/AP file photo

The House voted 213-204 Thursday to approve a plan to make new federal employees work in their positions longer before they are entitled to civil service protections.

The 2017 Ensuring a Qualified Civil Service Act (H.R. 4182), introduced by Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., would increase the probationary period for new hires to the competitive service and the Senior Executive Service from one to two years, and it would exempt time spent training new feds from that timetable.

The bill advanced out of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee by a 19-17 vote earlier in November. On the floor of the House, Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said the proposal would make it easier to ensure that the federal government is a haven for only the best and brightest public servants.

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“We’re not trying to run people out within two years,” he said. “The question is: Is a year long enough to uncover flaws in an employment or is two years? The data suggests that once folks are fully protected, it’s very difficult to move underperforming employees out.”

But Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., decried the bill as an assault on civil servants’ due process rights.

“This is just another effort to make [federal workers] at-will employees without any employee protections or due process rights,” she said. “There is no evidence supporting the idea that this is needed. It just delays access to the worker protection laws intended to ensure people are treated fairly on the job.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., offered an amendment that would have replaced the bill with an order for the Government Accountability Office to study probationary periods for new hires and to prepare a report for Congress, but it failed to win the House’s support.

“This bill may yet prove to be a good idea, but we don’t know,” he said. “Let’s look for some empirical evidence, systematically done, to support the adoption of such a sweeping bill.”

During the probationary period for new hires, agencies are not required to give feds 30 days’ notice of termination or disciplinary action, and they have limited rights to an attorney or the appeals process.

The bill has the support of the Government Managers Coalition, which includes the Senior Executives Association and a number of other groups representing federal managers. But ahead of Thursday’s vote, federal employee groups like the American Federation of Government Employees urged lawmakers to vote against the proposal.

“This bill does nothing to address any issues surrounding employee performance evaluations or management’s ability to properly evaluate employees during the probation period,” said AFGE President J. David Cox in a statement. “What it does is penalize good employees who are doing good work. This bill would keep federal employees in a perpetual state of limbo, where they could be fired for any cause with little ability to appeal.”

With the bill’s passage, it now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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