"We unearthed these problems, and now we have to solve them," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

"We unearthed these problems, and now we have to solve them," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Susan Walsh/AP

Top Republican: Fire More Feds and Shrink the Workforce, But Pay Higher Salaries

Oversight chairman says panel should focus less on making headlines, more on reforming government.

Congress’ oversight leader promised on Tuesday to introduce more legislation to ease the firing of federal employees in the “coming weeks,” and suggested cuts to the size of the federal workforce in exchange for paying employees larger salaries.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said at a Washington, D.C., event hosted by National Journal that he wants to renew the focus on the “second part of [his panel’s] name.” Using the committee’s investigatory authority for oversight can draw headlines easily: “I can get you a headline any day of the week,” Chaffetz said. The more difficult and nuanced process, he explained, stems from actually making changes based on the problems that arise from those investigations.

“We are allowed to target anything at any time,” Chaffetz said. “I’m like a kid in a candy shop.” He said he must practice restraint, however, and focus on finding solutions. “We unearthed these problems, and now we have to solve them,” he added.

One solution Chaffetz floated on Tuesday would be to shrink he overall size of the federal workforce, and pay those who survive the attrition more, while still saving taxpayers money.

Chaffetz so far has focused on reducing the burden agencies encounter when dealing with poor performers or employees engaged in misconduct, and he said on Tuesday that would be a key factor in making real reforms.

“You have senior management that can’t fire the bad apples,” Chaffetz said, pointing to examples of employees caught watching pornography, accused of sexual harassment and engaged in prostitution without being terminated.

One change Chaffetz said he would like to see is the immediate stripping of security clearances for malfeasant employees. Such an effort would expedite the removal of the workers at many agencies. Chaffetz, repeating a frequent refrain at hearings, said that 99 percent of feds are good workers and patriotic Americans. He added, however, that protecting those employees shouldn’t hinder reforms.

“You don’t want mass political firings,” Chaffetz said. “You want some due process, but when that goes on for a year, that’s not due process.” The chairman was alluding to the practice of placing employees under investigation on indefinite paid administrative leave, an option agencies should use less, the Office of Personnel Management said on Monday.

Chaffetz said he would be comfortable with a 30-day window for the appeals process, which currently takes, on average, 93 days to clear the initial Merit Systems Protection Board review. A bill discussed at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday would give MSPB 45 days to review a VA worker’s appeal of an adverse action.

The four-term congressman also advocated giving the government’s 72 inspectors general more power to punish employees who retire or separate from federal service in the middle of an investigation. Chaffetz said he hopes such a measure will also come in a matter of weeks, not months.

He and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., have already put forward a bill to give IGs more subpoena power, which cleared the panel last month. The chairman has also voiced support for expanding the standard one-year probationary period for new federal workers. This measure is expected to be championed by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.

In February, Chaffetz expressed support for an across-the-board pay raise for federal employees in 2016 so long as other provisions to root out bad employees are enacted.