Federal Manager's Daily Report

A recent court decision in a case involving a political appointee being converted to a career position “emphasized the importance of avoiding even the appearance of impropriety when hiring, and reminded agencies and managers that there are consequences for failing to follow rules and observe merit system principles,” the MSPB says in a new publication.

The case involved an individual who left a political position for a career position but when OPM looked into the conversion it told the agency it wouldn’t approve it; OPM approval is needed for hiring into the career service anyone who held a politically appointive position in the prior five years.

Where OPM initially disapproves, an agency may attempt to find a lawful appointment authority, ask OPM for a waiver, or remove the individual. The agency chose the latter course, and the individual appealed.

The court, though, found that the agency had a “legitimate interest in removing the appearance of political influence” in the hiring and that the removal promoted the “efficiency of the service” by “improving compliance with merit system principles.”

It further found the agency was not required to seek a waiver since it would be reasonable to assume that one would have been denied.

Said MSPB, “There are several lessons in the case, such as the requirement for OPM’s pre-hire approval of the appointment of any a person who has recently served in a political appointment and the clarification of what types of service may meet the probationary requirement for 1 year of current continuous service. But possibly more important is the message that just the perception of political influence in a hiring action is unacceptable, and that is why the court affirmed the decision to remove. The case serves as one more reminder of the importance of ensuring that personnel actions follow merit procedures.”

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