A new Senate bill (S-191) would require firing of a federal official who is found by an administrative or judicial proceeding to have “knowingly and willfully” misspent agency money or inaccurately reported spending through a channel such as a publicly available database.
The measure is a reaction to a recent Office of Special Counsel investigation in which it found that an HHS research fund intended for the development and procurement of vaccines, drugs, therapies and other medical countermeasures was used to pay for unrelated purposes ranging from salaries to general office purchases.
Mandatory firing provisions are rare in civil service law because the law in general gives management discretion to choose penalties within certain standards. However, the provisions that do exist commonly are inserted as a reaction to findings such as those of the OSC report.
That was the case in the enactment of the “10 deadly sins” that require firing of IRS employees for certain types of misconduct involving taxes, as well as the more recent enactment of laws—first applying only in the VA and later expanded government-wide—requiring discipline, including mandatory firing for a second offense, of supervisors found to have retaliated against whistleblowers.
OSC’s report did not state the total amount of funds misappropriated, but reveals that in fiscal 2019 about $25 million was taken out of R&D funds marked for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority Advanced Research and Development programs – funds for vaccine research and emergency preparedness for public health threats like Ebola, Zika, and COVID-19 – and improperly provided to the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.