Good Enough for Government Work

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

USA Today reports:

Federal employees’ job security is so great that workers in many agencies are more likely to die of natural causes than get laid off or fired, a USA TODAY analysis finds.

Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.

The federal government fired 0.55% of its workers in the budget year that ended Sept. 30 — 11,668 employees in its 2.1 million workforce. Research shows that the private sector fires about 3% of workers annually for poor performance . . .

The 1,800-employee Federal Communications Commission and the 1,200-employee Federal Trade Commission didn’t lay off or fire a single employee last year. The SBA had no layoffs, six firings and 17 deaths in its 4,000-employee workforce.

When job security is at a premium, the federal government remains the place to work for those who want to avoid losing a job. The job security rate for all federal workers was 99.43% last year and nearly 100% for those on the job more than a few years . . .

White-collar federal workers have almost total job security after a few years on the job. Last year, the government fired none of its 3,000 meteorologists, 2,500 health insurance administrators, 1,000 optometrists, 800 historians or 500 industrial property managers.

The nearly half-million federal employees earning $100,000 or more enjoyed a 99.82% job security rate in 2010. Only 27 of 35,000 federal attorneys were fired last year. None was laid off.

Meanwhile, Atlanta teachers were caught egregiously cheating on standardized tests, including holding parties where they erased and changed student answers. And yet . . .

Depending on the specifics of a case, the teacher firing process in Georgia can range from days to weeks to years. Costs mount as legal fees accrue. Atlanta has put the accused teachers on administrative leave, meaning the district will continue to pay their salaries as the termination processes unfold.

“Since Georgia is a right-to-work state, [the termination process is] probably about as streamlined as any in the nation,” said Hayward Richardson, a professor of education at Georgia State University. But even so, the process can wear on, running officials thousands of dollars in legal fees and salaries paid to the teachers who face dismissal . . .

Completing the Atlanta terminations could take a number of years, says Michael McGonigle, counsel for the Georgia Association of Educators.

“There’s an unprecedented number of these cases coming out of the gate,” McGonigle noted. “I’m not sure how they’ll process them at this point. … If they mess up [on legal grounds], and we can argue on appeal for reversal, we will do that. Or if the evidence isn’t strong enough … we would appeal that.” . . .

If they were fired, teachers could still work in different districts in Georgia — but they would have have a note of termination in their records, which is why, according to Bromery, Davis gave implicated educators the option to resign.

And Georgia is one of the states where it’s least difficult to fire a public school teacher.

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26 Responses to “Good Enough for Government Work”

  1. #1 |  Curt | 

    This is very promising. We need to have the government take over all business from the dang wall street fat cats. Then, when everyone in the country is a federal worker, we’ll have 0% unemployment and 100% job security. And they’ll finally be able to implement all the great green ideas that are stopped by big oil… and prescription drugs will be really cheap to make so we can sell them for nothing. It’ll be Utopia!

    sure… much like the education system in ATL, quality may suffer a little, but I think we’re all willing to make some sacrifices

  2. #2 |  2nd of 3 | 

    So, what should the federal firing rate be? (Please, no 99-100% snark). I will fully admit those numbers look too low, but I’d expect them to be lower than private sector in the first place; even in what I assume is your ideal–a very small and limited government–I believe the market forces would be different or non-exisitant, resulting in a differant firing rate for public sector employees.

    Also, is the 3% private sector figure taken from comparable white collar fields or the sector as a whole such as the service industry? I assume (wrong? let me know) that the latter has a higher firing rate than the former.

    Does this include people who left before retirement but were not fired? It’s a fairly common government practice to give people the oppurtunity to quit before starting the firing process. Might be hard to quantify, and you might not like the practice, but if the point is to get rid of a non-performer does it really matter?

    Anyway, I’ve seen so many private sector firings for reasons ranging from petty jealousy to nepotism I’m not sure I buy that the 3% figure really is indicative of people who were performing poorly. In my own case the one job I was fired from I actually deserved to be though, but not for the reason they gave, so who knows? :)

  3. #3 |  Dave Krueger | 

    You people just have to see everything in a negative light. I think the low rate of dismissal for federal public employees is a credit to the caliber of people hired by the federal government. If private industry hired higher quality workers, they too would have extremely low rates of firing people.

    The focus of your complaint should be on greedy profit-driven private industry employers who insist on paying no more than market rates and then demand that employees maintain a minimum level of performance, basing raises on excellence rather than seniority. Those kinds of egregious violations of human rights are bound to bring out the worst in people resulting a high turn-over.

  4. #4 |  freebob | 

    I worked for a county government at a transfer station, which moves garbage form one sight to a more permanent one. Me and two other individuals were responsible for maintaining a 20+ acre site.
    One of my colleagues had a 68 inch waist — I found out from the laundry service, looking for my own pants — and every time he lifted his finger he acted like I owed him something personally. He also looked an acted just like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. The other person who was supposed to help me, was at least 80 and would take the only work truck to some remote corner of the site and sleep all day. If he didn’t die on the job he died on the way.
    Despite that, the 12 hour shifts, being 20 and unable to show up for work not hung over, I kept the whole place clean, by myself, and I showed up to work everyday. Eventually, I was forced to take classes meant for high level officials, I was a 20 year old who cut the grass at a garbage dump, on team building and power point presentations, I freaked out and quit. They tried to get me back, I demanded changes — no more classes not meant for me, fire the corpse and the tub of lard — they refused. I’d still like to believe not all government work is parasitic, just most of it.

  5. #5 |  Mario | 

    About firing public school teachers, I had a conversation with my girlfriend, who is a public school teacher in NY. I can’t remember the exact figures, but there is some kind of “mandate” as to how long the process related to firing a teacher is supposed to take. (Undoubtedly, this was negotiated with the union.) I believe at her district the whole process is supposed to be over within 100 days.

    Nevertheless, I think it was reported that the average amount of time is over 300 days. Why? That’s what I wanted to know. Actually, what I asked was “100 days, or what happens?”

    It seems like there are no consequences for administration and school districts, in other words these mandates are toothless. Even 100 days seems pretty generous, but why isn’t it then being done within that time?

    I certainly think that reform is needed and the unions need to be a part of that reform, but there is far more politics and incompetence going on than can be traced back solely to the teachers’ unions.

  6. #6 |  tim | 

    I think this is more of a problem of scale than anything else. The same is true of very large companies. Its next to impossible to get fired. I have quite two large companies over their lack of action on problem employees.

  7. #7 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If I fuck up, they will walk me out the same day. This isn’t conjecture. It’s a fact. There is no doubt about who is in charge here.

    And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  8. #8 |  Matt I. | 

    I don’t dispute the facts or that firing government workers is very difficult.

    However, I am VERY suspicious of the motives of the author of that article. In his fact box he mentions the EPA, NASA, Housing & Urban Development, Small Business Administration, and National Labor Board as examples of workers who are difficult to fire.

    He convenientlly leaves out the Military, DEA, TSA, DHS, ATF, Bureau of Prisons…

    How difficult are those workers to fire?

  9. #9 |  DarkEFang | 

    #6 tim –

    That’s exactly it. Huge bureaucracies almost never get rid of problem employees, whether they are the federal government, a Fortune 500 corporation, or the Catholic Church. Usually what happens is that supervisors will con a different department into taking that employee off their hands.

  10. #10 |  Brian | 

    DADT was the only way to fire someone from the military. As for the TSA you have to be caught stealing thousands of dollars worth of travelers stuff. Being a regular fuck up at the TSA isn’t going to get you fired. The ATF to my knowledge hasn’t fired a single person involved in the Mexican gun running project so I’m guessing its pretty difficult to get fired from there as well. As for the rest I’d suspect its just as difficult. The government doesn’t care if you are semi-literate fuck up. Just don’t embarrass them.

  11. #11 |  CyniCAl | 

    If a government program is the nearest thing to immortality, then having a government job is the nearest thing to heaven on Earth.

    It’s a world of musical chairs out there, and the music has stopped. Permanently. Government employees are too big to fail.

  12. #12 |  PermaLurker | 

    Not so Brian. Refusing to obey orders over a long period of time will lead to discharge. My brother wasn’t gay and ended his service prematurely with a BCD (bad conduct discharge); he did spend a rather long time in the brig before that happened though.

  13. #13 |  jb | 

    Regarding “Administrative leave,”
    Of course, it is unfair to suspend someone without pay who then turns out to be innocent, and retroactive pay plus interest won’t solve the problems of someone who needed that paycheck. But why not set it up so if the person is eventually terminated, they are fined the amount of the pay they drew while on administrative leave? They are free to halt the legal proceedings at any time by quitting, thus stopping drawing that pay and leaving them free to get other jobs–but they’d still need to pay back the administrative leave pay they drew up to that point.

    That would solve the money-wasting payment problem, and provide incentive for people frivolously contesting their firings to just walk away.

  14. #14 |  z | 

    #11. Government jobs are not heaven on earth. Very few if any government workers enjoy what they do for half their waking hours. Sitting around waiting to grow old so you can retire is soul crushingly depressing. But since it’s the best financial deal around by far very few actually leave.

  15. #15 |  z | 

    If the fed. government is “under-firing” by 20 or 30,000 incompetents every year, it wouldn’t take long before up to half of the workforce really deserve to be fired. I’d say that’s about right.

  16. #16 |  CyniCAl | 

    Funny Z, I imagine Heaven to be quite boring as well. Why anyone would desire an afterlife is beyond me. I find one life to be quite enough.

    Maybe life would be doing these poor government workers a favor if they were removed from such a soul-crushing existence. Perhaps simply being a hobo would be a nobler way to spend one’s time. It would certainly be more beneficial to society.

    What a wonderful by-product of modern living: a whole class of people who spend their lives in misery and boredom just to be marginally financially-secure, all at the double expense of their productive neighbors who get the privilege of being forced to pay for shitty products/services. I’m all tingly just thinking about it.

  17. #17 |  SJE | 

    DC just fired a few hundred teaches for poor performance. It can be done, with enough spine.

  18. #18 |  JS | 

    SJE “…with enough spine.”

    Well yea, sure, with that.

  19. #19 |  Brandon | 

    The false equivocation in some of these comments is astounding. “It’s ok because large companies probably do it, too” is not a valid excuse for government incompetence. Private companies are free to waste their own money on incompetent employees all they want, and without government interference, the market will punish them for it. The government is exempt from market forces, and is wasting YOUR money, that it has taken by force and is currently calculating how much more of which it can take without enraging you, and giving it to its chosen few with no regard for how efficiently it is spent.

  20. #20 |  Curt | 

    @ SJE,

    I thought remembered some big case where a bunch of teachers were fired for poor performance, but the city was then forced to re-hire them. I did some searching through google and found… lots of cases.

    I don’t remember if the particular example I was thinking of was Rhode Island, Detroit, New Jersey, Chicago, etc…, but it was probably one of them. It also could’ve been DC who just had to re-hire a bunch of teachers in February… with back pay.

  21. #21 |  Pablo | 

    The situation with the Atlanta public schools is an absolute disgrace. Massive corruption, cheating, and fraud and yet no one, and I mean NO ONE, will step up and take responsibility and resign. So it will take years and millions of taxpayer dollars to get rid of these scam artists who profited by cheating kids out of their futures.

    Public employee unions are evil.

  22. #22 |  DarkEFang | 

    #19 Brandon –

    “The false equivocation in some of these comments is astounding. “It’s ok because large companies probably do it, too” is not a valid excuse for government incompetence. ”

    I don’t really know that government is any more incompetent than the private sector. As with anything, I can point out instances in which it is competent, and instances in which it isn’t.

    Honestly, in my personal life, I deal with incompetence from private sector employees way, way more often than public sector employees. That’s mostly because I rarely deal with government employees.

    No, the problem with government employees isn’t their competence at all. The problem is that much of the work they do shouldn’t be done by government, period. Replacing them with more competent employees doesn’t solve problems of government overreach.

    In fact, I submit that in many government positions, having a less competent employee would reduce their interference in the general public’s business. If code enforcement officials weren’t shutting down lemonade stands and throwing gardeners in jail, but were instead playing Farmville, things would run more smoothly. If prosecutors were out playing golf all day, they wouldn’t have time to violate the spirit of the laws they’re supposed to be enforcing.

  23. #23 |  JSL | 

    “The ATF to my knowledge hasn’t fired a single person involved in the Mexican gun running project so I’m guessing its pretty difficult to get fired from there as well.”

    IIRC, they’ve fired one of the whistleblowers.

  24. #24 |  DarkEFang | 

    Speaking of whistleblowers, the guy who blew the whistle on News of the World has been found dead. They don’t have any idea how he died, but somehow have determined that there’s no way he was murdered. So that isn’t at all suspicious.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14199171

  25. #25 |  markm | 

    “Not so Brian. Refusing to obey orders over a long period of time will lead to discharge. My brother wasn’t gay and ended his service prematurely with a BCD (bad conduct discharge); he did spend a rather long time in the brig before that happened though.”

    Take it from a former NCO: It’s difficult to compare the military to private sector jobs or even to other government jobs. Other employers can’t send employees to Leavenworth for disobeying orders or grossly disrepecting superiors. Other employers have policies; the military has regulations, which are “orders”, so not following them can be construed as a felony – in the military’s own courts. A few things that are at most a firing offense in any other job can carry the death penalty in the military – including running out on your job when you are needed most (e.g., cowardice or desertion when your unit is going into combat). Other employers can’t try to fix a bad attitude by methods ranging from assigning the employee to polish floors for a day, to reduction in rank and sending him to a boot-camp-like program that even Sheriff Joe Arpaio would recognize as unconstitutionally harsh. (The military member has the *choice* of accepting such a penalty assigned by his commander or going through with a court-martial, which may send him to prison for something that isn’t even a crime outside the military. But if he goes to prison, he isn’t discharged until after completing the sentence – unless the military decides it *needs* to keep him on as an and reassign him as a porta-potty technician or sniper bait, generally at E1 pay, which is lower than minimum wage.)

    And finally, military members sign up for a fixed time in the service. Once past boot camp (which drops many young men for “unsuitability” as well as physical problems), it’s very difficult for either the member or his bosses to cut that time short without going through a court-martial, aside from proving a few specific violations of regulations – drug offenses and homosexual actions – or if Congress has required a reduction-in-force deeper than can be handled just by slowing (re)enlistments. For anything short of a serious felony (and some of the most serious are unique to the military) that will involve a prison term before discharge, the military will try very hard to straighten a poor employee out before firing him – and someone who is unable or unwilling to straighten out will be wishing they could have just fired him long before his time is up.

    OTOH, it doesn’t take much at all to put a notation in a members personnel file to the effect that he will not be allowed to re-enlist when his time is up. So the guys that are just a little stupid or lazy, and never do anything wrong but don’t do enough right have a protected job for a few years, but then it’s easier to fire them than a GM hourly employee. And their supervisors and commanders are often highly motivated to go through the necessary paperwork; there’s a chance their life will depend on that guy someday!

  26. #26 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    This is stupid. Federal workers don’t get fired because they ALL do great work. D’uh.

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