12.03.2018 0

Today is the most important MERIT Monday to drain the swamp

By Natalia Castro

Today is not just any Monday, it could be one of the last chances for Congress to pass the MERIT Act. This legislation hits at the heart of limiting the size and scope of government by removing toxic federal employees. For too long, civil servants have been unaccountable to the American people and to management in their own agencies. If President Trump truly wants to drain the swamp, Congress must allow managers to fire the swamp.

This year alone, FEMA has uncovered a sexual predator working in their personnel department who spent years engaging in misconduct, the Department of Treasury alleges that employees leaked classified information to obstruct the Trump agenda and delegitimize his presidency, and Project Veritas released a series of videos in which Democratic Socialists admitted to doing their job purposefully poorly to prevent Trump’s policies from taking effect.

The commonality in all of these cases is that these employees spent years engaging in this misconduct under the assumption that they could not be fired. And they are not wrong.

It takes years to fire federal employees. Since dismissals for cause are such timely and costly tasks, most managers resort to transferring employees or working around them.

Currently, the federal government has a termination for cause rate of just 0.53 percent and an overall termination rate of just 3.37 percent, compared to 17.27 percent in the private sector, according to a report released by the Americans for Limited Government Foundation. This creates toxic environment for good, hardworking civil servants who overwhelming agree that it is too hard to fire poor performers.

Furthermore, our federal government fails whistleblowers.

According to an October 2017 report the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigation, when 13 victims of sexual misconduct spanning decades at the Department of Interior sent a letter of concern to then-Secretary Jewell and investigation was prompted and several employees were dismissed. Unfortunately, it was later uncovered that many of these employees were rehired and eventually retired with benefits intact. Conversely the individuals who penned the letter to Secretary Jewell failed to have their contracts reinstated.

Our civil servants deserve better. Luckily, reform is possible and has worked before.

When misconduct at the Department of Veterans Affairs became a national issue in 2017, Congress passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. This law retains due process protections for employees but expedites dismissal timelines so managers are more inclined to remove poor performers. It also protects whistleblowers from adverse actions when they report abuse.

As a result of this law’s passage, the VA has increased terminations for cause by 26 percent and dramatically increased their capacity to serve veterans without the delay of recalcitrant employees.

Unsurprisingly, this legislation passed with bipartisan support in the House and a voice vote in the Senate.

What is surprising is that the MERIT Act, which simply institutes the VA’s reforms to the entire federal government, is being held up by Democrats and pro-labor Republicans who are concerned about how labor unions will react.

Labor unions were created to protect employees but they have failed and instead protect toxic employees.

The MERIT Act does not violate employee due process and takes critical steps to ensure the voices of victims of abuse are heard, it makes no sense for any member of congress to be against this. Their support for the nearly identical VA reform indicates this is more about partisan politics than helping our federal employees.

A memo signed by over 120 conservative advocacy groups explains, “It is more important than ever that Congress commit to quick consideration of this measure, particularly as unelected bureaucrats continue to boldly undermine President Trump. Poor performers–and those who seek to subvert the will of the administration under which they serve–should be held accountable.”

This week may be the last week Republicans have a majority in both Houses before they go home for the Christmas break and return to start the new Congress. So now more than ever, Republicans needs to push the MERIT Act forward and protect our civil servants from the deep swamp that is growing around them.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor and policy analyst at Americans for Limited Government.

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