If you want to drain the swamp, you need to be able to fire the swamp.
President Trump, Congress and public employee unions (the defenders of the swamp) all know this. You need to know this because this Labor Day the battle over public funding of public employee union expenses and the ability to fire incompetent federal employees should matter to everyone.
Fortunately, the protection for the swamp is beginning to show cracks. For one, there is reason to believe that Congress will take steps to allow the rest of government to use the same expedited firing process that was overwhelmingly passed in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate in 2017 for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Astonishingly, a 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, estimates that it takes a between 170 and 370 days to fire bad federal employees once the decision has been made to terminate their employment.
The sad fact is that many federal managers would prefer not to spend six months to a year in meetings trying to dislodge an entrenched do-nothing employee, so instead they just manage around unproductive employees. This allows federal employees who should be terminated to effectively shelter in place because it is too much of a pain to dislodge them.
The stories are so common that they hardly make news. One GS-12 public affairs specialist in the Atlanta Environmental Protection Agency office attempted to pawn a video camera she stole from the government – and kept her job.
A Department of Housing and Urban Development employee, according to Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., spent his day making real estate deals using his HUD email and kept his job six years after federal law enforcement reported the abuse to his superiors.
In the private sector, these employees would have had their boxes packed, their desk cleaned off, and their computer access eliminated faster than the 10 minutes it would take to fire them. But not in the federal government. That needs to change.
The primary obstacles to reform are the powerful public employee unions.
Not only do these unions dole out tens of millions of dollars in campaign cash, but, more significantly, they use their high-paying government positions to drag out these firings. And here is the kicker: you, the taxpayer, are paying most of their salaries, expenses, and travel costs to the tune of an estimated $177 million.
But help is on the way. President Trump issued three executive orders attempting to force public employee union representatives to work 75 percent of their time for the federal government and requiring unions to pay for their own office and travel expenses.
The Trump executive orders effectively cut the taxpayer subsidy to these unions by $100 million a year. The president also sought to shorten the appeals time for employee terminations, through the executive order process. While these reforms have been put on hold by an Obama appointee on the federal bench, Congress can act now.
As they return from their summer break, House members should immediately take up Rep. Loudermilk’s MERIT Act of 2017. Pass it and send it over to the Senate.
The House can also schedule a vote on legislation by Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., that ends taxpayer funding of union employees, forcing the labor unions to pay for their basic operating expenses using dues rather than expecting the rest of us to pay for their overhead.
Finally, the president could instruct the Office of Personnel Management to evaluate whether the federal government is required to collect union dues through payroll deductions or if that is a task better left to the unions, which are private entities. The simple act of forcing the federal public employee unions to collect their own dues would give federal workers true choice of whether to support a union or not.
This Labor Day, the swamp is still intact, but the walls that encase it are beginning to crumble. The first step to restore sanity to the federal workforce has to be for Congress to allow incompetent, lazy and recalcitrant employees to be fired – and fired now. It is time for this Congress to pass the MERIT Act.