Fedweek

The House Armed Services Committee has approved a bill to reinstate the otherwise-standard one-year probationary period at DoD, seeking to end a DoD-only policy of a two-year probation that has been in effect there since 2015.

The language in the annual DoD authorization bill touches on one of the federal workplace policy areas of disagreement between federal employee unions and management associations, who otherwise agree on many workplace issues.

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Management groups in general argue that one year is not long enough to assess the performance of new employees in certain positions, especially those that are highly specialized and require extensive training and/or on the job experience before an employee reaches a full performance level. Unions in contrast generally argue that it’s a failure of management if an assessment cannot be made within one year and that a longer period leaves employees exposed for a longer time to being fired without the appeal rights that accrue after completing probation.

That difference has arisen again, with the AFGE union for example praising passage of the language while the Federal Managers Association has urged that Congress wait until it gets the results of an ongoing study into the issue. That likely would effectively put off possible action until next year’s budget cycle.

The bill also would return retention policies for RIF situations at DoD to the standard applying elsewhere. Currently after type of appointment (permanent vs. temporary or term) the top factor at DoD is performance ratings; elsewhere, performance ratings are the last factor.

Further, the bill would strengthen language against DoD managing by personnel ceilings—a practice that unions contend encourages the department to lean on contractors rather than in-house employees—and would bar use of temporary or term employees for long-term needs, effectively requiring use of permanent employees.

The counterpart Senate committee previously approved its version of the bill without similar language. Both the House and Senate could vote on their bills in the weeks ahead, with differences to be resolved in a conference.

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook