Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., attempted to strike provisions making it easier to fire senior executives, but failed.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., attempted to strike provisions making it easier to fire senior executives, but failed. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

House Passes Package of Federal Employee Rights Changes

Bill aimed at holding senior executives “accountable” faces a White House veto threat.

Just after Midnight Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House passed a package of seven bills aimed at holding federal employees accountable for poor performance or misconduct. The largely party-line vote was 241-181.

The Government Reform and Improvement Act (H.R. 4361), originally sponsored by Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., would ease the suspension or firing of federal senior executives, crack down on employees who watch pornography, and require tracking of “official time” used by union leaders.

President Obama has threatened a veto.

During more than an hour of debate in the afternoon and late at night, Palmer said the array of bills attached to his original information technology safeguards bill “would hold senior executives accountable.” He argued, for example, that the provision extending employees’ probationary period from one year to two is already effective at the Defense Department. Also defending the need for the bill were Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Tim Walberg, R-Mich.

Opposition was led by Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., along with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. She argued that the Republicans’ “off with their heads” approach to firing senior executives actually “punishes the American people” because of the taxpayer investment in training and promoting such experienced managers. Her amendment to strike many of the bill’s changes to senior executives’ rights failed 183 – 239.

On Wednesday, the Senior Executives Association, under interim president Jason Briefel, wrote lawmakers reiterating the group’s past opposition to the bill’s “several highly likely unconstitutional provisions targeting the men and women who serve our nation in the federal government’s Senior Executive Service.” The bill would deny agencies necessary flexibility, the association wrote, and “will not yield an improved or reformed government.”

Similarly, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers sent a letter arguing that the bill is “largely intended to stifle the due process rights of federal employees, add more cumbersome, needless and costly layers of reporting requirements for government agencies, and erode the collective bargaining rights of federal employees.”