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Management Groups and NARFE Push for Extended Probationary Period

Congress has reopened the debate about the probationary period for federal employees. It last took up the issue, but did not send legislation to the President’s desk, in 2011.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today debated legislation offered by Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), H.R. 3023,that would extend the probationary period for new hires and members of the Senior Executive Service (SES) to two years.

The proposal brought forth a contentious debate in committee, with lawmakers on opposing sides of the aisle disagreeing about the necessity of the proposal and its appropriateness in being applied across the board for all federal positions.

Buck’s proposal drew support from Tom Burger, Executive Director of the Professional Managers Association (PMA), which represents managers and management officials primarily at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Burger offered the example of Revenue Agents as the type of complex federal job that would benefit from an extended probationary period and more time for an employee to master information, and their manager in assessing the employee putting that information to work.

“A longer probationary period would give managers more time to make an accurate decision on whether or not an individual is able to perform the necessary duties of an efficient, effective agent,” Burger wrote in his letter to the committee. “Two years of training is a very costly process, but it is more costly to make a hasty decision and keep someone that would not be an asset to the organization and mission.”

PMA, which is also part of the Government Managers Coalition (GMC), which includes the five management/executive associations including the Federal Managers Association (FMA), FAA Managers Association (FAAMA), National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), and the Senior Executives Association (SEA), sent a separate letter to the committee, which was also signed by National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE), expressing support for “modifications to the existing probationary period to accommodate the needs of agencies with a longer training period,” yet stating that “H.R. 3023, while a step in the right direction, does not provide agencies needed flexibility.”

“A one-size-fits-all probationary period does not reflect the complexity of duties and skill sets in the federal workforce. For some jobs, a one-year probationary period is completely adequate,” the GMC wrote.

The GMC letter cites research from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found deficiencies with the implementation of the probationary period, and the need for a longer period for certain positions.

“The existing probationary period often places an unfair burden on both the employee and the manager. In many cases, managers are placed in the position of having to decide whether to retain employees when they may not have had sufficient time, or even any time, to evaluate them,” the GMC letter states. “If a marginal employee is not removed during the one-year probationary period, the burden of proof required to take a removal action becomes much greater. There is an incentive to dismiss the employee prior to the expiration of the one-year window even though the employee may not have had sufficient time to show that he/she could master the job. To this end, we support provisions that a manager must proactively certify that an employee has passed the probationary period, rather than the current framework in which, after 366 days of employment, the employee’s probationary period is over.”

“In order to help ensure that new supervisors, managers and executives perform adequately in their new roles, the committee should also consider language calling for the probationary period to be utilized appropriately in these roles,” the letter also states.

A substitute amendment offered by the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), striking the bill’s text and instead providing for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study into the issue, failed.

The legislation was reported favorably by the committee, and awaits further action on the House floor.

 

 

Posted in General News

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