NTEU Files Objections to OPM Rule Changes

Press Release October 17, 2019

Washington D.C. – Proposed rule changes from the Office of Personnel Management making it easier to undermine, punish and fire federal employees show just how far the administration will go to ignore Congress and write its own civil service laws, said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

NTEU today filed extensive objections to the proposed OPM rules because they are not justified by data or research and would set the government on the path toward ruining its own professional, merit-based civil service.

“Like the executive orders that inspired them, these OPM rule changes clearly have but one goal: to gut due process and get rid of federal employees as fast as possible,” Reardon said. “And who benefits from a smaller, weaker government? Financial scam artists who don’t get caught by the SEC; polluters who don’t get caught by the EPA; tax cheats who don’t get caught by the IRS; and on and on.”

The OPM rules, first published in September, affect probationary periods; performance-based reductions in grade and removal actions; and adverse actions. NTEU’s objections to each rule change are varied.

For example, the proposal requiring agencies to measure and publish all disciplinary, performance and adverse actions is designed solely to encourage managers to take more of those actions.

“No reputable private sector employer publishes attrition or termination data for the obvious reason that it would send the message to prospective applicants: ‘You don’t want to work here.’ Or maybe that’s the point,” NTEU’s comment states.

With these rules, OPM directs agencies to take the shortest route possible to firing federal workers while at the same time opening the door to favoritism, retaliation and discrimination. The proposed regulations minimize the substantive right that employees be given time to improve their performance, and they sacrifice fairness for the sake of expediency.

For example, ensuring similarly situated employees are treated similarly is part of the basic fairness inherent in the civil service laws. OPM’s proposed regulations attempt to write this concept out of existence and would result in inequitable treatment and lower morale.

Progressive discipline and tables of penalties are appropriate guardrails to ensure fair treatment of employees and keep managers from abusing their authority while still allowing for flexibility, and should not be labeled “inimical” to good management practices.

NTEU also objects to OPM’s effort to eliminate the requirement that agencies offer assistance to employees who need to improve their performance.

“An employee’s right to a meaningful opportunity to improve is one of the most important substantive rights in the entire … performance appraisal framework,” NTEU wrote.

NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.