House to Consider Lengthening Probationary Period

The House is set to vote this week on a bill (HR-4182) to lengthen the standard competitive service probationary period from one year to two, extending government-wide a policy already in effect for all positions at the Defense Department and in excepted service positions government-wide.

During the probationary period an employee can be fired or otherwise disciplined with far fewer appeal rights than afterward. The bill reflects long-running proposals backed mainly by Republicans and organizations representing federal managers to extend the period on grounds that the results of one year might not be indicative of whether the employee should be granted tenure, especially in occupations requiring extensive on-the-job training. They cite a GAO report concluding that one year may not give supervisors enough time to accurately review the employee’s performance. Such arguments previously were the basis for imposing a two-year period at DoD, which was put in place last fall retroactive to hires starting November 26, 2015.

Democrats and federal employee unions, though, generally argue that with fewer legal protections than tenured employees, probationers are more vulnerable to whistleblower retaliation and other abuses of management authority. During committee consideration of the bill, Democrats unsuccessfully offered an amendment to have GAO study whether a longer period is warranted for some or all positions.

Also under the bill, supervisors would have to be notified 30 days in advance of the scheduled completion of a probationary period, and agencies would have to certify that an employee successfully completed the period.