A powerful House lawmaker vowed Tuesday to remove barriers to firing federal employees who have admittedly broken the most serious of rules.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, questioned the rationale for keeping the most egregious violators on the payroll.
“There are a lot of jobs in government that deal with national security. So when they have come to the conclusion that they knowingly violated this aspect of conduct, we’ve had several cases where they had admitted they’ve done this. They had admitted they had contact with a foreign national, which is prohibited. They had engaged in prostitution, which is prohibited. Yet, they were still allowed to keep their jobs,” Chaffetz said at an event sponsored by the National Journal in Washington. “What I don’t understand, and we have hearings coming up, is why these people don’t lose their security clearance. If you don’t have a security clearance, you’re not working for the Drug Enforcement Administration. You’re not working for the Secret Service. You’re not working for Homeland Security Department. You’re not working for the CIA.”
To be clear, Chaffetz is not calling for mass firings of people who break basic rules. But he said there has to be a balance between those employees that deserve due process and those that are admittedly or without a doubt are guilty.
“When that due process goes on for more than a year, that isn’t due process,” he said.
Training isn’t the problem
Chaffetz said he’s in favor of having parameters in place so there are checks and balances. But the process to dismiss an employee can’t take longer than 30 days.
Several federal employee union and representative groups say a key piece that has been missing in this discussion from Chaffetz and others in Congress, including members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which also gave the Secretary of VA more authority to dismiss federal employees more quickly, is around training.
The groups say the need to train Senior Executive Service members and high level General Schedule employees for dealing with problem employees hasn’t been consistently addressed over the past few years.
“Look, 99 percent of the people deal with things properly, they are patriots and work hard. It’s the one percent, the bad apples that I don’t care how much training you are going to do are bad actors and you have to get rid of them,” Chaffetz said in an interview after the event. “Training is important. We have not spent much time on that because I know they do quite a bit of training with the exception of the Secret Service, which was shockingly low. But I really got to provide a mechanism when you have somebody who is watching pornography at work, when they’re soliciting prostitutes and when they’re sexually harassing people at work. You got to be able to fire those people and right away.”
Chaffetz plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to change the law and make it easier to fire those federal employees who are obvious offenders of the most serious rules.
Another big and related issue that Chaffetz said he wants to address is federal employees who break the law or federal rules and then retire before they are held accountable for their transgressions. There have been several recent examples, including two at the VA with Susan Taylor and Glenn Haggstrom, who allegedly broke or violated contracting rules but retired before any punishment was doled out.
Chaffetz said his solution to this issue is to give agency inspectors general more power and authority.
“There are 72 inspectors general. They have literally thousands of people who work for them. They are independent, Senate-confirmed positions appointed by the President, but they need the power and authority to be that independent investigator who can come up with that information,” he said. “What we find now though is people say, ‘Oh, I’m retiring, you can’t touch me.’ Well, we are going to actually give them more authority to continue to pursue those people after they leave. And then you have to hope that if there is criminal activity that the Department of Justice pursues it. In the case of the EPA, you had 17 allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, and the Department of Justice decided that wasn’t really justifiable, that they didn’t want to pursue that because he had retired. That isn’t good enough.”
Chaffetz offered more details after the panel. He said under a new law, he would give IGs authority to compel these retired federal employees to come back and answer questions.
“Right now, you get too many people saying, ‘I’m leaving the service, and I quit.’ We had one person who quit on the spot, signed it on a napkin and said, ‘I hereby resign, and you can’t ask me any more questions.’ That’s not helpful. That’s not solving the problem,” he said. “I would hope it’s closer to weeks than months, but it’s coming.”