More Consistency in Federal Employee Discipline Sought

Federal agencies are inconsistent in the way they discipline employees for misconduct, says a House report that focused on sexual misconduct but whose underlying premise would apply to other types of misconduct, as well.

The report from the majority side of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee also reinforces the previously stated interest of House Republicans in toughening discipline against federal employees, potentially as part of a wider civil service reform effort.

The committee last year asked 26 departments and large agencies to provide their tables of penalties, which are used to help management decide an appropriate penalty for misconduct under civil service law, ranging from admonishment to firing. It found that eight of them have no such tables–including OPM, which it said “is the agency ostensibly serving as the human resources manager for the federal government”–saying that without such tables, “agencies run the risk of inconsistent, arbitrary, and inadequate responses to findings of misconduct.”

It added that some agencies that have such tables have not updated them in years–several date to the 1980s–and seven do not directly address sexual misconduct. Among those that do, there is no standard definition of such misconduct, and recommended penalties for various types of action vary, even among the sub-agencies of departments. Also, some agencies hold supervisors to a higher standard of conduct while others don’t.

It recommended that all agencies have such tables, keep them updated and publicize them internally, and that OPM issue government-wide standards appropriate penalties for various types of sexual misconduct.