Fedweek

House defense spending bill would revert to a one-year probationary period at DoD.

A House committee is considering repealing two special personnel policies applying at DoD — a longer probationary period and making performance the first factor in RIF retention rather than the last.

The annual DoD authorization bill, set to come to a vote in the Armed Services Committee next week, would return the standard probationary period for the department’s employees to one year—the general standard elsewhere in government—from the two years used at Defense. The increase—enacted in 2015 during the Obama administration but at the initiative of Republicans in Congress—was based on the premise that for some jobs, especially those requiring extensive training, one year is not long enough to assess a new employee.

The bill gives no explanation for the proposed change back to one year, although federal employee organizations have argued all along that any inability to assess an employee within one year is a failure of management, and that a longer probationary period subjects employees to a longer period in which they lack the appeal rights for tenured employees. The MSPB last year questioned the value of a longer period, saying that while agencies are not putting those periods to their best use in evaluating employees and taking action against poor performers, a need for more time is not a major reason.

The measure further targets another DoD-specific policy enacted along with the probationary period change, to increase the emphasis on performance over other factors, especially longevity, that come higher in RIF retention policies in general. It does not call for an immediate repeal but rather says the impact of the policy “should be identified and reviewed for any necessary modification” and orders a detailed report on RIF actions since it took effect—a report to be produced by next March, in time to be considered for next year’s DoD budget bill.

The DoD-specific policies have been seen all along as potentially setting precedent for wider application. A Republican-sponsored House bill in the prior Congress sought to use a two year probationary period at all agencies, although that bill did not reach enactment. Last year one of President Trump’s executive orders on personnel matters last year required OPM to issue rules elevating performance over longevity in RIF retention government-wide. That provision was not among those blocked by a court injunction affecting many parts of those orders, but OPM has not issued such a policy change even in draft form in the year since.