While disciplinary actions draw the most attention regarding misconduct by federal employees, there are other ways to respond to it, and ways to prevent it from occurring in the first place, GAO has said.

In response to a congressional request on data on major disciplinary actions against federal employees–firing, demotion or suspension of more than 14 days–GAO estimated that about 17,000, about 1 percent, are subject to such actions annually. It said those figures are incomplete due to the way agencies report to OPM, however, and don’t include lesser actions such as reprimands and shorter suspensions. As a result, “OPM is unable to accurately target supervisory training to address misconduct and decision-makers do not know the full extent or nature of this misconduct.”


GAO added that “federal managers may not address misconduct because they are unfamiliar with the disciplinary process, have inadequate training, or receive insufficient support from their human resources offices.”

GAO said, though, that apart from taking disciplinary actions, agencies can take steps to “better prevent and address employee misconduct.” These include: setting clear expectations regarding conduct; engage employees in the agency’s mission; have senior leaders set a good example; and “monitor workforce morale and initiate programs that encourage respect and community.”

It also pointed out that alternative discipline is available, in which an employee and agency might enter an agreement addressing an act of misconduct, with a provision for more severe discipline if the employee violates the agreement. Such agreements “tend to be more focused on taking a corrective or remedial response rather than punitive actions against an employee.”

Also, an agency “may decide to provide counseling or additional training as appropriate, depending on the facts and circumstances that address specific acts of minor misconduct.”