Proposed rules would remind managers when new hires are approaching the end of probationary periods and streamline firing procedures.

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The Office of Personnel Management on Monday proposed new regulations seeking to implement portions of an executive order streamlining the firing of federal workers, including providing managers with a reminder of when new hires reach the end of their one-year probationary period and limiting the use of supplemental opportunities for poor performers to right the ship.

In a set of proposed rules slated for publication on the Federal Register Tuesday, OPM said the changes are needed to conform with the priorities of President Trump’s management agenda, as well as to bring federal personnel practices into the 21st century.

“The federal personnel system needs to keep pace with changing workplace needs and return to its root principles,” the agency wrote. “Notably, as demonstrated in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, a majority of both employees and managers agree that the performance management system fails to reward the best and address unacceptable performance. Finally, the PMA calls for agencies to establish processes that help agencies retain top employees and efficiently remove those who fail to perform or to uphold the public’s trust.”

The rules seek to implement portions of President Trump’s executive order streamlining federal firing that have not been struck down, at least temporarily, by a federal injunction. In August 2018, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson blocked provisions of the order—along with parts of two others—that would have removed adverse personnel actions from grievance procedures and standardized the length of performance improvement plans at 30 days.

A federal appeals court in July overturned that ruling on jurisdictional grounds, but the injunction will remain in place until the court decides whether to rehear the case.

In its filing, OPM acknowledged that portions of the order remain blocked, but offered assurances that it would not attempt to impose those changes in regulations until the case is resolved. Unions have accused OPM and agencies of trying to circumvent the court order through collective bargaining negotiations.

“OPM is aware of the judicially-imposed limitations on implementing other portions of Executive Order 13839,” the agency wrote. “OPM has and will continue to comply fully with the injunction, and will not issue regulations implementing the invalidated parts of the executive order as long as the judicial injunction is in place.”

The proposed regulation would insert a new step into the process by which new hires graduate to become full federal employees: reminding managers of when the end of an employee’s one-year probationary period is 90 days and 30 days away.

“To achieve the objective of maximizing the effectiveness of this probationary period, OPM believes that timely notifications to supervisors regarding probationary periods can be a useful tool for agencies and should be used,” the agency wrote. “OPM is proposing . . . to require agencies to notify supervisors that an employee’s probationary period is ending . . . and advise a supervisor to make an affirmative decision regarding the employee’s fitness for continued employment or otherwise take appropriate action.”

Additionally, OPM proposed streamlining the process by which agencies can demote or fire workers for “unacceptable” performance, clarifying that agencies are not required to help employees improve or provide an improvement period longer than federal law requires.

“The proposed rule . . . clarifies that, other than those requirements listed, there is no specific requirement regarding the nature of any assistance provided during an opportunity period, and is not determinative of the ultimate outcome with respect to reduction in grade or pay, or a removal,” OPM wrote. “The proposed rule also states that no additional performance improvement period or similar informal period to demonstrate acceptable performance to meet the required performance standards shall be provided prior to or in addition to the opportunity period.”

The rules also would shorten the timeframes by which employees have an opportunity to respond to allegations of misconduct or poor performance before adverse personnel actions are formally proposed, and bar agencies from agreeing to settlements with employees, by which workers resign from their post in exchange for having adverse personnel actions stripped from their employment records.

The proposed regulations also reiterate July 2018 OPM guidance outlining how agencies should collect data regarding adverse personnel actions and removals on an annual basis and submit this information to the HR agency for eventual publication.

“To enhance public accountability of agencies, OPM will collect and, consistent with applicable law, publish the information received from agencies aggregated at a level necessary to protect personal privacy,” OPM wrote. “[In] lieu of outlining the data collection requirements in OPM regulations, OPM will issue reminders of this requirement annually and provide periodic guidance consistent with the requirements of [the executive order].”

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USPS Floats Big Cuts to Employee Pay, Leave and Benefits

Postal Service Floats Big Cuts to Employee Pay, Leave and Benefits
New postal workers would no longer earn a pension under preliminary business plan.
July 2, 2019
U.S. Postal Service
Retirement Benefits
Eric Katz
Senior Correspondent
The U.S. Postal Service, facing pressure from Congress to propose initiatives to ensure the agency’s long-term viability, is floating a business plan that would include significant cuts to employees’ take-home pay and benefits.

USPS included a hike to the employee contribution level for pensions in a first draft of a 10-year business plan presented to lawmakers and stakeholders, according to multiple people who were briefed on it, as well as phasing out pensions altogether for new hires in favor of a defined-contribution system only. The Postal Service is looking to cut the amount of paid time off employees receive by merging annual and sick leave and pitched a popular proposal with demonstrated bipartisan backing to require all postal retirees to enroll in Medicare as their primary insurance provider.

The mailing agency suggested it resume closures of mail processing plants, according to those briefed by management, a controversial practice it has used to reduce its vast physical footprint and shed workers. USPS stopped closing the facilities amid congressional pushback and intensifying talks for a legislative overhaul to the agency. Last year, the Postal Service inspector general found the agency realized just 5% of its projected savings from the consolidation plan.

USPS told those briefed on its plan that it was still subject to change. At a hearing in April, lawmakers grilled Postmaster General Megan Brennan on why the agency had failed to produce a 10-year business plan and indicated they would not move forward on legislative reforms USPS has said it desperately needs without first viewing the document. The details of the business plan were first reported by HuffPost.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee and helped usher an overhaul bill through the panel in the last Congress, said he planned to set a July deadline for the business plan and Brennan promised to meet it.

Continue reading “USPS Floats Big Cuts to Employee Pay, Leave and Benefits”

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‘People Are Crying When They Come Into Work:’ Unions Protest OPM-GSA Merger

Lawmakers said they will try to amend an appropriations bill to block the acting OPM director from following through on her threat to lay off 150 agency employees.
June 25, 2019
Erich Wagner
Union officials, Office of Personnel Management employees and Democratic lawmakers held a rally Tuesday across the street from the agency’s headquarters to protest the Trump administration’s plan to merge the federal HR agency with the General Services Administration.

Roughly 50 people vowed to fight the effort to effectively dismantle OPM and send its regulatory authority to an unconfirmed presidential appointment within the Office of Management and Budget, chanting phrases like, “Hell no, we won’t go,” and “Save OPM.”

Officials at the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Federation of Federal Employees, both of which represent OPM workers, organized the rally following the news last week that acting OPM Director Margaret Weichert has threatened to furlough, and eventually lay off, around 150 agency employees if Congress does not commit to greenlighting the OPM-GSA merger by the end of June.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said at the rally that he would introduce an amendment Tuesday to the fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill to block the administration from executing furloughs or reductions in force at OPM. The bill already contains provisions blocking funds from being used to implement the merger.

“They have no plan, and they’ve communicated with nobody,” Connolly said. “Here’s what we assert: They don’t have the statutory authority to do this, and we’ll challenge them in court if necessary.”

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the furlough threat is an effort to strong-arm lawmakers, or failing that, to push forward with the plan before Congress can act to block it.

“This layoff threat is based on the theory that if they proceed quickly enough, we will not be able to stop them,” Norton said. “But even [Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.] has said that the business case has not been made [to merge the agencies].”

John Cherry, president of AFGE Local 32, which represents OPM employees, said that since the announcement of the plan to merge OPM and GSA, morale has been in free fall.

“The atmosphere at OPM is very low,” he said. “People are crying when they come into work, they don’t want to come to work. They feel depreciated by the new management of OPM.”

Cherry said Weichert told employees after her testimony in Congress that everyone “needs to get on board” with the merger. And Marlo Bryant, chief steward of the AFGE local, said Weichert has been evasive in conversations with workers about what the merger would mean for employees.

“She has frequently said that everyone will continue to work if they want to, that there would be no RIFs and no layoffs,” Bryant said. “But when asked questions from employees directly, like why GSA and what the merger would mean, she wouldn’t answer.”

Bryant also took issue with a common comment by Weichert, that whenever she discusses her plans for OPM, nobody offers a valid counter proposal to fix the agency.

“Why haven’t employees been able to see the data?” she asked. “She sits in meetings and says, if anybody has any better ideas, let me know. How the hell can we let you know, if you’re not giving us any of the information?”

The House is expected to vote later this week on the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill.

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