MSPB questions almost non-existent failure rate of supervisors during probationary period. Image: ADragan/Shutterstock.com

Only about seven in 1,000 newly appointed federal supervisors fail the probationary period for assessing their performance in that job, MSPB has said, adding that “it is unlikely that so few new supervisors would fail in a leadership position.”

Newly appointed supervisors—as well as newly appointed managers—must serve an additional probationary period beyond any they already have served; the length can vary but most agencies use one year. Those who had been advanced from a previous federal position and fail probation must be returned to a job similar to one they previously held; new supervisors hired from outside the government can be fired without the appeal rights that accrue after completing any probation.


However, the MSPB said the data it gathered “point to a convincing trend that agencies are making little use of this additional assessment opportunity.” Since 1999, in only one year did the overall rate of removal of probationary supervisors exceed even one percent, and even those were disproportionately against those new to the government. Voluntary turnover among supervisors in probationary periods is only between 1 and 3 percent, likely meaning that few are leaving rather than face disciplinary actions, it added.

“The low rate of recorded failure for new federal supervisors, therefore, suggests that many agencies are either not using the probationary period to assess the new supervisors’ ability to do the job, or they are letting supervisors continue in positions despite evidence that they will not be successful in those positions,” it said.

As in prior reports on the issue, the merit board said that in some cases the person overseeing the new supervisor may not even be aware that a probationary period is in effect and never makes an actual decision on whether the person has been successful.

Also, “When we asked agencies what barriers do prevent the effective use of the supervisory and managerial probationary periods, the two barriers cited most were supervisors’ unwillingness to take actions against probationers and the lack of available positions in which to place ineffective probationers.”