hear it from fma

Feds Deserve a Probationary Period that Accommodates Training Needs

The probationary period is meant to offer federal employees the time and opportunity to train for a career within the federal government and showcase their abilities to management and supervisors.

The current probationary period is a year from the date of hire, and in many federal career paths, this is an appropriate amount of time for training and management assessment. However, there are instances within various federal departments and agencies in which the training period is longer than the probationary period. For example, the training period for case workers within the Social Security Administration is 16 months, and within the Internal Revenue Service, it is 14 months. In these instances, the manager is forced to make permanent hiring decisions before they are able to fully assess probationer's abilities and capabilities. In order to ensure a fully efficient and capable federal workforce, the Federal Managers Association (FMA) has called for a change to the probationary period in which the period would begin after the initial training period is complete. The Government Accountability Office called for similar changes to the probationary period in February 2015, citing that by extending the probationary period to include at least one full employee appraisal cycle, agencies would be better equipped to address poor performers and ensure members of the federal workforce are fully able to complete assigned tasks and duties.

Before the August recess, Representative Ken Buck (R-CO) introduced legislation calling for an extension of the probationary period to two years after training is complete. This brief piece of legislation does not take into consideration the needs of individual federal departments and agencies and continues a “one size fits all” solution for the probationary period. This bill does not examine the probationary and training needs of federal employees and managers to ensure an efficient and effective federal workforce.  The federal government employs millions of people, who do a wide array of jobs. A blanket probationary period does not accurately reflect the diversity of the duties of the federal workforce. However, FMA hopes that Representative Buck’s legislation will be the first step in creating a probationary period that meets the needs of federal employees and managers.

Earlier in the year, FMA testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management. Here, FMA National President Patricia Niehaus commented on the need for common sense reforms to the probationary period. In written testimony, FMA stated, “Some career fields are so complex that it takes more than one year to properly train an entry-level employee. FMA advocates that extending the probationary period to one year after completion of all necessary training would benefit the government and the employees by allowing supervisors to make decisions based on the employees’ performance as a fully trained employee – not just guess at how the employee will perform after the training is completed.” By providing a probationary period of one year that begins after a federal agency or department’s training period is successfully completed, the employee and managers will be confident in the employee’s abilities. 

As Title 5 of the U.S. Code simply calls for a probationary period with no mention of duration, FMA calls upon the Office of Personnel Management and Congress to examine the use of the probationary period throughout federal departments and agencies and the benefits of formal review of abilities after training is complete. It is unfair to judge an employee’s abilities prior to completion of a training period, and by providing extra time to evaluate an employee, managers can ensure the sustainability of the federal workforce.


By The Federal Managers Association

Celebrating its 100th year, the Federal Managers Association (FMA) is proud of its long tradition of Advocating Excellence in Public Service. For more information on how FMA works to protect your interests and to join our team, please visit www.fedmanagers.org.

Posted in Hear it from FMA

Tags: federal managers, legislation affecting federal employees

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