On November 6,
2001, Senator Daschle stated he would like to fire the company
(Argenbright) and workers that do baggage screening for airport
security for poor performance and replace them with federal
employees. The good news is that airlines can easily remove
Argenbright or any of its workers for poor performance if they want
to. The bad news is that many members of Congress are proposing a
solution, federal employees, that would make it nearly impossible
to remove airport security workers in the future for poor
Removing and demoting federal employees for poor
performance remains relatively rare in the civil service. Even in those cases where
performance has been clearly and seriously inadequate - perhaps
deserving dismissal such as Senator Daschle would extend to
Argenbright - the Federal government historically has not been
disposed towards demoting or removing deficient employees. For example,
In fiscal year 1997, just 0.1 percent
of the 2.7 million federal employees (or 3,550) were separated from
their jobs for reasons related to poor performance. Just 100 were
demoted for inadequate performance and only 1,257 were denied pay
increases because of poor work.
- Of the 100,260 to 124,650 poorly performing workers in the
federal government, just 2.8 percent to 3.5 percent were removed,
less than 0.1 percent were demoted, and 88 percent were given pay
Although the Civil Service Reform Act
of 1978 was intended to make it easier to remove poorly performing
federal workers, the procedures it created to guide supervisors are
the very ones that deter managers from removing unacceptable
These procedures involve an
appraisal period, an improvement period, often of several months,
as well as a notice period and an appeals process. In addition, the
evidence necessary to demonstrate a pattern of unacceptable
performance can be extensive.
In fact, federal supervisors find the amount of time and energy
that is required to remove a poor performer to be extremely long
Moreover, the removal process is
often subverted by a poor performer's counter-charges, grievances,
accusations, appeals, general hostility and attempts to subvert the
If anybody would know how hard it is to remove federal employees
for poor performance, it would be the federal workers themselves.
And federal employee surveys and studies over the past 23 years
consistently show that most federal workers and supervisors judge
the response to poor performance to be woefully inadequate.
In a 1978, the General Accounting
Office found that: Supervisors and managers perceive firing as a
difficult chore that often lacks top-level management support.
People at all levels fear reprisals from employees who may file
adverse action appeals, discrimination complaints, and
lawsuits...Removal procedures are complex, especially the detail
and specificity required in stating reasons for removal; the
process is also lengthy and time consuming. Supervisors and
managers instead tend to use an informal system of working around
or even promoting unsatisfactory employees.
Surveys conducted by the U.S. Office
of Personnel Management during the1980's and 1990's consistently
find that most federal workers do not believe corrective action is
taken when employees perform poorly. Very small percentages of
federal workers believe that poor performers will be removed for
In 1995, federal supervisors
indicated that: the procedures for dealing with poor performance
are too complicated, time consuming, or onerous; they do not get
higher level management support; and they perceive their decisions
will be reversed or that they will be falsely accused of
discrimination in their actions.
In 1997, a survey of 9,700 Federal employees revealed that the
issue of handling poor performance was their greatest concern.
Nearly half of the respondents said that agencies had a major
problem correcting poor performance, and even more said the same
thing about the firing of poor performers.
In 1998, some 44 percent of federal employees said they did
not believe that corrective actions are taken in their
organizations when fellow workers do not meet performance
In 2001, some 67 percent of federal employees believe their
organizations do not do a very good job at disciplining poor
In the private sector the
profit motive provides the incentive to dismiss poorly performing
workers who are not contributing to the bottom line. Some
businesses may have no choice but to fire unsatisfactory performers
or risk going out of business. In the Federal government, however,
supervisors rarely have such stimulus to act. In
fact, many supervisors report there is little negative cost to them
for taking no action. Employees that work for every
member of Congress can be fired at anytime for poor performance.
The same standard should apply to airport security.
D. Mark Wilson is a former Research Fellow
in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The
Merit Systems Protection Board, Federal Supervisors and Poor
Performers, 1999, p. 8.