Issue Briefs

Following is a portion of a recent MSPB report on disciplinary practices, pointing out that while the number of federal employees ultimately fired for misconduct is only part of the number of actions agencies take.

Data from our 2016 survey show that when an agency official proposes a removal for misconduct, 70 percent of the time, the outcome is that the employee departs. But, what many people may not realize is how many of those departures are recorded as an action other than a removal.


According to surveyed supervisors, for the most recent removal they proposed, only 54 percent of the departures were removals, while 28 percent were resignations, 8 percent were retirements, 3 percent of employees found another Federal job, and in 6 percent of cases, the proposing official did not know the nature of the departure.

Not surprisingly, 90 percent or more of respondents with an employee who resigned, retired, or was removed agreed that the outcome was in the best interest of the Government and the public. However, less than 40 percent agreed that it was in the best interest of the Government or the public when the employee obtained a different Federal job. This is one reason why reference checks are so important, as noted in our report, Reference Checking in Federal Hiring: Making the Call. Of course, if the employee engages in serious misconduct at the new agency, the new agency is free to propose an action on that basis. Diligence before hiring is preferable, but diligence after hiring should occur as well. If a hiring official is aware of the employee’s weaknesses and then makes an informed assessment that the person will still fit the unique requirements of the new job, it may help explain some of the nearly 40 percent of respondents who proposed a removal and then said that the transfer elsewhere in the Government was in the interest of the Government and public.

What about the almost 30 percent of employees who received a notice of proposed removal but later remained employed by that same agency? Understandably, when an official proposes a removal, he or she tends to think that retaining the employee was not the best choice. In those cases where the employee with alleged misconduct was demoted, suspended, or reassigned, approximately one out of every five proposing officials agreed that the outcome was in the best interest of the Government and public. In contrast, when the employee remained in the same position without such an action, less than 1 out of every 20 proposing officials thought that outcome was best.

This data about retained employees is one reason why it is important to understand that just because a removal was proposed, it does not mean the removal was warranted. In some cases, even the official who proposed a removal said that it was a good outcome when the agency kept the employee. Whether the proposing official endorsed the outcome or opposed it, the data come from a survey of perceptions, not a review of agency evidence. We are not in a position to say what decision was “correct” or “best” for the agency or the public – only to note that sometimes even the proposing officials for removal actions support a different outcome in the end.

The survey data show that looking only at the number of employees who were removed cannot tell the whole story of what happens to employees with conduct issues. The rest of the tale is harder to see, but the data indicate that other outcomes can also serve the best interest of the Government and the American people. In other words, not every departure needs to be a removal action.