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The term “government employee” has become synonymous with lazy, subpar, bureaucratic nonsense, and a host of other unflattering adjectives. If you are like me and deal with various federal, county, and state offices on a daily basis, it can be rather frustrating. While there are certainly good folks to be sure, it seems in some offices and entities that is just simply not the norm.
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Now President Donald Trump is proposing to make some much-needed changes to the federal civilian workforce with his 2019 budget. To those employees not measuring up or pulling their weight, this could spell doom for them. The budget is set to be released on Monday and is purported to contain some of the biggest reforms to the government workforce in decades. President Trump’s efforts to wrangle the bureaucracy fulfill a key campaign promise of the businessman president, who pledged a hiring freeze to shrink the cost of government and reduce regulation.
Among the changes proposed:
Creation of a bonus pool to reward good employees.
An end to so-called “step increases,” pay hikes of 3% to 5% that 99.7% of federal workers get even if they are poor performers.
Changes to the overall pay package, with a focus on generous retirement benefits, that align federal pay to the private world.
Retraining of employees.
Redeploying workers where they are needed.
The White House is purposing to change how more than 1.5 million federal workers are paid with a merit-based system. The proposed system would emphasize performance-based raises instead of the current system that generally increases pay based on tenure. The proposal would slow tenure-based increases, generating $10 billion over 10 years for performance-based payments. Then the subject of benefits, now currently 47% higher than in the private workforce, according to a congressional report, will be trimmed back in line with the private sector.
Many are touting it as “the most ambitious proposal to overhaul the civil service in 40 years” as President Trump proposes what is the norm in many private sector companies. Simply put, he is proposing to “hire the best and fire the worst.”
President Trump briefly alluded the proposal in his State of the Union address last week when he stated – “Tonight, I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
President Trump is using the VA Accountability Act, which gave the Secretary of Veterans Affairs greater authority to fire and discipline workers, as a model for this newest proposal. The White House reports the VA Accountability Act resulted in the dismissal of 1,470 employees, the suspension of 443, demotions for 83 others last year.
Another portion of the upcoming proposal plans to reduce automatic pay increases and instead use that money for a performance bonus pool. Currently, federal employees get a review every one to three years. Employees whose performance is “fully successful” — as 99.7% are — get a within-grade “step” increase in addition to annual cost-of-living increases.
Reforms have been introduced in the past but opposition from the biggest workforce in the country often resist change, fighting any effort to be accountable to the very American people that pay their salaries.
Critics claim these bonus will be used to reward loyalists and lackeys and be used to discriminate against minorities and women. American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox claims President Trump is using this proposal as a means for “political revenge” stating – “While to some people those are code words, they’re very clear to us. Basically, it wipes out due process rights for employees. He seems to be interested in political revenge by firing people. The government is not a family business that you get to be in total control of.”
Proponents of the proposal say that is not the case and instead state the overall goal is to bring the 1950s-styled Civil Service into the digital age, introduce automation, reward “the best” with bonuses, make it easier to hire and fire and provide “flexibility” by moving employees where they are needed and even rehiring skilled retirees.
USA Today details just how difficult this proposal might be to carry out though as many have come before President Trump and failed to do the same –
“Since President Jimmy Carter signed the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978, every president has tried — to some degree or another — to promote greater efficiency in the federal workforce.
And every president has largely failed, running up against an entrenched culture in the bureaucracy, opposition from labor unions and a fickle Congress, said Donald Devine, who was President Ronald Reagan’s civil service director. Reagan tried implementing Carter’s reform law but ran into resistance from Congress.
Trump administration officials say Devine’s work has inspired their efforts, but they weren’t popular at the time: Newspapers gave Devine nicknames like “the Grinch,” “the Rasputin of reduction in force,” and “the terrible, swift sword of the civil service.” He served four years as director of the Office of Personnel Management but withdrew his re-nomination in 1985 amid congressional opposition.
“You get bogged down, the unions keep threatening you, they get Congress so upset,” Devine said. “All the presidents, after a while, give up and forget about it. Some of them make it worse, some of them do a little better.”
And while he credits Trump for taking on the issue with new enthusiasm, he said the real estate mogul and former reality television star will soon learn it’s harder to fire people in government.”
It seems President Trump has his work cut out for him and I wish him all success as this is an endeavor that is desperately needed for the betterment of the American people.