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EDITORIAL: Underperforming federal employees rarely get fired

If you underperform at your private-sector job, there’s a good chance you’ll be fired. If you underperform as a federal employee, there’s a great chance you won’t be.

According to a survey from Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, the vast majority of underperforming federal workers don’t get fired. Thousands of federal executives took the survey, and their responses are frustrating, to say the least.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents say underperforming managers are rarely or never reassigned or dismissed, and 70 percent of respondents say underperforming nonmanagers are rarely or never reassigned or dismissed. Four percent of respondents report that under-performing non-managers are reassigned or dismissed within six months and that six percent of respondents report that under-performing managers are reassigned or dismissed within six months.

Federal workers have it way too easy, and they’re all too happy to abuse the system. They know they can’t be held accountable, and too many of them perform as such.

Employees with the Department of Homeland Security have been paid overtime to watch Netflix or talk on the phone, and a top-level employee at the Environmental Protection Agency was accused of watching porn up to six hours a day each day at work since 2010. Despite being caught in the act — and investigators finding 7,000 pornographic files on his work computer — he kept his job.

According to another report from the Patent and Trademark Office, at least 19 paralegals have raked in between $60,000 to $80,000 a year to sit on Facebook, online shop and watch TV. Auditors say the employees’ managers ignored their actions and billed their hours under “other time,” while also giving each of the workers thousands of dollars worth of performance bonuses. The nonworking federal workers have cost taxpayers roughly $5.1 million over the last four years.

So, what’s the solution?

Vanderbilt Political Science professor David Lewis, who co-authored the study, says the federal government needs to do a better job of sharing best practices among agencies. He also calls for more merit pay for federal workers.

“The discourse on public service tends to be should government do this or do that, or should it be smaller?” says Lewis. “But real problems exist for the kind of things everybody agrees government should be doing.”

If we want our federal government to work better, we need to make the federal workforce work more like the private sector. What we’re doing now simply isn’t working. In more ways than one.

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