During 2017 neither the Trump administration nor civil service leaders in Congress made a serious move toward changing basic federal employee laws, although they did target certain areas that could be a sign of what’s to come in 2018.
Next year is important symbolically since it will mark the 40th anniversary of enactment of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, which laid out the basic parameters of allowable and unallowable personnel practices, employee rights to appeal disciplinary and other personnel actions, whistleblower protections, union representation and grievance rights, and more.
That law has come under criticism–not just from conservatives but also from experts on the government–as being outdated, in particular for not providing sufficient flexibility to pay competitive salaries in high-demand occupations, reward good performers meaningfully, nor take prompt action to improve poor performance or to discipline employees for misconduct or unacceptable performance.
Much of the effort that had been expected in 2017 stalled when its main proponent–then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee–left Congress in mid-year.
However, some pieces of what may yet form into civil service reform did advance. Employee appeal processes were shortened for most VA employees and appeals of senior executives there redirected to in-house review panels; both are considered potential precedent for applying government-wide.
Also: law was changed to require discipline against supervisors who retaliate against whistleblowers, a possible prelude to requiring discipline for other types of conduct; several other enhancements to whistleblower protections were enacted; and legislation began moving in the House to double to two years government-wide the standard probationary period, a time when relatively new employees have much-restricted appeals rights against firing or other personnel actions.
On labor matters, the administration canceled its predecessor’s program for labor-management cooperation forums and for greater union involvement in agency decisions. And the House moved legislation to require fuller accounting of official time–on-the-clock time that employees with union roles can spend on certain union duties–which is widely seen as a first step in a move to limit if not revoke use of that time.