07.17.2018 0

MERIT Act passes out of committee, proceeds to House floor

By Natalia Castro

The MERIT Act is finally moving forward. After a passing vote in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the MERIT Act will be moving onto the House floor in the coming weeks for a vote. Congress can take a major step in answering the people’s calls to “drain the swamp” by moving forward with this legislation. The only way to drain the swamp is to fire the swamp, and the MERIT Act will empower managers to remove poor performing employees that are preventing our bureaucracy from working for the people.

When Georgia Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk introduced the Modern Employment Reform, Improvement, and Transformation Act of 2017 (MERIT Act) it was attacked by unions who maintain an unabridged desire to protect employees from any form of repercussions for their actions.

It makes sense unions are scared. Thanks to union litigation, the federal government termination rate, including layoffs and firings, is a mere 3.37 percent, compared to a private-sector termination rate of over 17 percent. Unions have made the firing process for poor performing employees timely and complex, causing managers to prefer transferring poor performing employees rather than going through the process to dismiss them.

But moving an employee does not remove the problem.

This was no more evident than in the National Parks Service, where two congressional hearings were required to shed light onto longstanding sexual harassment and hostility within the department. The culprits were consistently transferred from office to office where they were able to abuse more and more employees and, eventually, retire with benefits intact. Meanwhile whistleblowers had failed to have their contracts renewed.

A lack of accountability within our civil service fuels waste, fraud, and abuse.

To combat this, the MERIT Act would:

  • Increase agency management’s power to remove poor employees;
  • Expedite timelines; 7 – 21 days’ notice of action; simple presentation of cause with employees given opportunity to respond;
  • Cap appeal decision time at 30 days, after which the dismissal is upheld, unless declared otherwise;
  • Require that if the 3–day deadline is not met, MSPB must report to Congress and the oversight committees in the House and Senate and explain non-compliance; and
  • Uphold whistleblower protections.

The common-sense reforms should have no problem receiving bipartisan support considering this bill simply extends the reforms codified into law under the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to all federal agencies.

The VA reform bill passed with bipartisan support in 2017 and has increased agency firings by 26 percent since implementation began. While retaining an employee’s basic due process rights and increasing whistleblower protections, the MERIT Act builds upon the successes of the VA to make our entire federal government more efficient and effective.

Now that the bill has moved out of committee, representatives on both sides of the aisle must rally behind the legislation. Particularly for Republicans who promised to drain the swamp, this is the chance to prove those words are more than just campaign rhetoric.

This is not just a mission for the House, last week Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) introduced the MERIT Act as S. 3200 to the Senate, giving Senators the chance to support the legislation as well. By cosponsoring the MERIT Act, Senators can prove they are equally committed to draining the swamp.

It is time Representatives and Senators on both sides of the aisle prove they are tied to the American people and not unions. Our federal government should function for the American people and employees who fail to do so should be removed. While the vast majority of our civil service may be committed public servants dedicated to the public good, those who are not are bringing down the entire system. Now that the MERIT Act is out of committee in the House and introduced in the Senate, members of Congress must move forward with its swift passage.

Natalia Castro is the Public Outreach Coordinator for Americans for Limited Government.

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