House OKs Bill Mandating More Firings of Misbehaving Federal Employees

Feds would need to keep electronic records of work text messages sent from their personal devices. Feds would need to keep electronic records of work text messages sent from their personal devices. rangizzz/Shutterstock.com

This story has been updated. 

The House Tuesday evening passed a measure that would require federal agencies to fire any employees found guilty of destroying or manipulating official records.

The Federal Records Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., would remove any employees an inspector general found knowingly “concealed, removed, mutilated, obliterated, falsified, or destroyed any record, book, or other thing” controlled by the offending employees. Both Republicans and Democrats voiced their support for the bill, and lawmakers approved the measure unanimously by voice vote.

The bill would also prohibit federal employees from using personal devices to conduct official business, unless they create an electronic record of the communication. That means any email, instant message or even text message -- as clarified by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during the bill’s markup -- sent from a personal device regarding agency business must be captured as an official record.

Oversight committee Democrats ensured the bill would not infringe on employees’ due process before throwing their support behind it. Workers found guilty of manipulating records would be suspended, and then receive written statement of the charges against them within 15 days. Employees could then offer a defense within 15 days of receiving the notice, and would have the right to a hearing and appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Meadows called the bill “common sense legislation,” noting it would improve both transparency and historical preservation.

“Intentional destruction of records is a criminal act,” Meadows said. “Federal employees found guilty of such a crime should be fired.”

The bill’s passage comes after scandals at the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency in which employees were accused of intentionally destroying records. Lawmakers have long been vocal in their opposition to federal managers using personal devices to conduct official business.

“It wasn’t one agency,” Meadows said, “it was plethora of agencies that have communication going on a regular basis that isn’t being preserved.”

The House Tuesday evening passed a measure that would require federal agencies to fire any employees found guilty of destroying or manipulating official records.

The Federal Records Accountability Act, introduced by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., would remove any employees an inspector general found knowingly “concealed, removed, mutilated, obliterated, falsified, or destroyed any record, book, or other thing” controlled by the offending employees. Both Republicans and Democrats voiced their support for the bill, and lawmakers approved the measure unanimously by voice vote.

The bill would also prohibit federal employees from using personal devices to conduct official business, unless they create an electronic record of the communication. That means any email, instant message or even text message -- as clarified by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during the bill’s markup -- sent from a personal device regarding agency business must be captured as an official record.

Oversight committee Democrats ensured the bill would not infringe on employees’ due process before throwing their support behind it. Workers found guilty of manipulating records would be suspended, and then receive written statement of the charges against them within 15 days. Employees could then offer a defense within 15 days of receiving the notice, and would have the right to a hearing and appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Meadows called the bill “common sense legislation,” noting it would improve both transparency and historical preservation.

“Intentional destruction of records is a criminal act,” Meadows said. “Federal employees found guilty of such a crime should be fired.”

The bill’s passage comes after scandals at the Internal Revenue Service and Environmental Protection Agency in which employees were accused of intentionally destroying records. Lawmakers have long been vocal in their opposition to federal managers using personal devices to conduct official business.

“It wasn’t one agency,” Meadows said, “it was plethora of agencies that have communication going on a regular basis that isn’t being preserved.”

The Project on Government Oversight was not convinced the measure was the best way to address the larger transparency issues raised by the IRS and EPA scandals. Joe Newman, a POGO spokesman, told Government Executive the bill was too narrow and threatened to punish whistleblowers.

We're always happy when Congress moves to increase transparency and accountability but we're not sure this bill is the best way to do that,” Newman said. “There are long-standing problems with federal record keeping practices that need to be addressed but it might be a better approach if Congress looked at the system as a whole, rather than tailoring legislation to address a specific scandal.”

(Image via rangizzz/Shutterstock.com)

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