Trump Civil Service Order Makes It Easier to Say ‘You’re Fired’ (1)

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Three new executive orders from President Donald Trump will make it easier to fire federal workers, require the government to review its collective bargaining agreements for cost savings, and address the issue of federal employees spending more than 25 percent of their work hours on union representation issues.

That’s from Andrew Bremberg, director of the administration’s Domestic Policy Council, and other senior administration officials. The officials described the executive orders during a May 25 telephone news briefing.

The administration also will seek legislative changes to the current civil service system, the officials said. In the meantime, the president is using his “available discretion” under current law to make changes that will allow the government to operate more efficiently, they said.

The orders will undermine federal employees’ rights to due process against adverse employment actions, making the government more susceptible to corruption, J. David Cox Sr., president of the largest federal employee union, told reporters May 25.

Collective bargaining is permitted in federal agencies under current law because Congress determined that it would make the government more efficient, Cox added. The American Federation of Government Employees intends to look at all available options for fighting the orders, he said.

“We will see him in court, we will see him in the streets, we will see him everywhere we can be,” Cox said of Trump.

Less Time to Improve Performance

Federal employees whose performance isn’t up to par currently are given 60 to 120 days to improve their performance, the officials said. The first order would reduce performance improvement periods to no more than 30 days, while making performance a more important factor than seniority in layoffs, they said.

The second order is about “getting better union contracts,” one of the officials said. Agencies will be encouraged to renegotiate contracts to find savings for taxpayers, the official said. A working group will be tasked with analyzing all current labor contracts, the official said.

Also under that order, the president is calling for all collective bargaining agreements to be posted online, the officials said. That will make the government’s doings more transparent, they said.

No More Than 25 Percent `Official Time’

The third order focuses on union “official time,” which is time spent by federal employees on union representation matters during their working hours. The order will ban federal workers from spending more than 25 percent of their work hours on union matters, the officials said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is finding that “the medical competencies” of health-care workers who spend most of their time on union business have “lapsed,” one of the officials said. The official time order will ensure that all federal employees are able to do their jobs, the official said.

Federal employee unions aren’t the only ones concerned about the order.

“Policies like these latest executive orders from the President can be abused to reduce senior official accountability or punish whistleblowers,” Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the Project On Government Oversight, said in a statement.

“More discipline can be beneficial, and of course there are cases where misbehaving employees don’t face the appropriate consequences. But weakening civil service protection laws would make the government less effective, and put us all at risk,” said Schwellenbach, whose group describes its mission as shining a light on the government’s activities.

There are about 2.1 million federal civilian employees, including roughly 1.2 million who are represented by unions. Union official time has been debated for years, including as recently as a May 24 House hearing in which Republicans and Democrats clashed over the issue.

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