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October 23, 2014

Bureaucrat Accountability 101: Retire Early

A VA official retires rather than be fired, but that’s not limited to the VA.

Lest you think the Veterans Affairs scandal resolved itself and corruption fled of its own accord, it didn’t. What did flee, however, are VA employees involved in the scandal. The evaded the pink slip by retiring. How convenient.

The latest case in point is Susan Taylor, a former deputy chief procurement officer and one of four VA officials “proposed for removal” due to unprofessional conduct. But removed she wasn’t. You see, when Congress passed that VA reform bill over the summer, theoretically making it easier to fire or demote senior executives for “poor performance and misconduct,” VA bureaucrats were none too pleased with the idea of accountability for employees. So the agency created another process to give advance notice to employees who may be fired. Those so notified have five days to retire or otherwise leave of their own accord instead of being fired.

Naturally, faced with getting canned or retiring with full benefits, it’s a no-brainer. So, when advised she had been “proposed for removal,” Taylor instead wrote a letter, stating, “[A]fter 29 years of federal service, I have decided to resign and retire, effective Oct. 14th.” How proactive of her.

But she’s not the only one evading accountability, and this isn’t a problem limited to the VA. Remember Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the Tea Party targeting scandal? She opted for a cushy retirement, too.

This problem is widespread. The government is so incapable of firing people that it’s just putting them on paid leave, in some cases for several years. According to a 62-page report published this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), taxpayers forked out more than $700 million to fund paid leave for some 57,000 federal employees – just for fiscal years 2011-2013. Of these, 53,000 were on paid leave for one to three months, 4,018 for three months to one year and 263 for one to three years. Who needs unemployment benefits when you can find a job with the government and get paid to do nothing?

Here’s the clincher: Some of these employees were on paid leave because they were being investigated for alleged misconduct or criminal acts. Nothing like getting paid to stay home … while under investigation … for three years. Nice “work” if you can get it. What’s worse (if that’s possible) is that in some cases agencies couldn’t even give a reason the employees received the amount of paid leave they did.

It’s ridiculous, really. Because the government has a seeming inability to fire anyone, we the taxpayers keep paying their salaries. As James Sherk, Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics, recently testified before Congress, “Managers who wish to fire problematic employees, whether because of misconduct or poor performance, must go through draining and time-consuming procedures that take about a year and a half. Consequently the federal government very rarely fires its employees, even when their performance or conduct justifies it. In fiscal year (FY) 2013 the federal government terminated the employment of just 0.26 percent of its tenured workforce for performance or misconduct – a rate one-fifth that of monthly private-sector layoffs.”

So because of the government’s unparalleled ineptitude and inbred aversion to accountability, incompetent and perhaps even criminal employees avoid firing, collect a paycheck while doing nothing, or write nice retirement letters.

But please don’t claim a smidgeon of corruption. No, not one smidgeon.

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