Should Congress make it Easier for Political Appointees to Fire Their Senior Executives?

Thursday, April 02, 2015
(photo: Noel Hendrickson, Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images)

Senior career government employees are concerned that Congress might make it easier for them to be fired.


Although there’s no legislation before Congress now that would make it easier for political appointees to terminate senior executives within an agency, such bills have been introduced in previous sessions.


Those legislative attempts prompted the Senior Executives Association to conduct a survey of 476 current and former members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) about the idea of at-will employment for them. At-will employment permits an employer to fire an employee at any time for any reason without notice.


Not surprisingly, such a change was soundly rejected by survey respondents, with 87% saying at-will would politicize their ranks, weaken morale and possibly drive talented people from the federal workforce.


More than 90% said making members of the SES at-will employees would discourage them from disagreeing with their political bosses, or increase the likelihood of being fired if they did speak up. One survey respondent said, “It will convert the SES into a cadre of political hacks.” Another wrote: “Say good-bye to any meaningful attempts to innovate and lead change, and create more efficient and effective government.”


The survey was conducted between August and September 2014, during which time the House approved a bill, the Senior Executive Service Accountability Act, making it easier to discipline and fire senior executives. That bill did not advance, but President Barack Obama did sign into law a bill that would make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to discipline and fire senior executives found to have committed misconduct or wrongdoing.


The current Congress has not introduced legislation addressing SES.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

At Will Employment in the Career Senior Executive Service: Promoting Accountability or Threatening Federal Government Effectiveness and Senior Management Capability? (Senior Executives Association) (pdf)

Senior Execs to Congress: Making Us At-Will Employees Will ‘Destroy’ Us (by Kellie Lunney, Government Executive)

House Approves Bill to Make It Easier to Fire Senior Executives (by Kellie Lunney, Government Executive)

U.S. Code § 3592 - Removal from the Senior Executive Service

Federal Senior Executives Say Promotions Based on Merit, Others Disagree (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Financial Disclosure for Senior Federal Executives Delayed until after Election (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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