4 August 2013

Senior US federal officials may face the music very quickly if they breach integrity standards. Several Republican senators and representatives are promoting bills that requires agencies to place members of the Senior Executive Service  (non political appointees) on three months leave without pay when misconduct is alleged, to enable an investigation to take place. At the conclusion of the three months, the official is to be suspended, sacked or reinstated. The promoters of the bill are said to be “fuming” that officials receive full pay while protracted employment investigations take place.

The Government Employee Accountability Act appears to be a response to incidents like the “lavish” conference spending by the General Services Administration several years ago, and the recent allegation of targeting by the Inland Revenue Service of prominent Republican party members.  CNN reports that initial assessments about the IRS, likely to be confirmed, are that the practice was poor management rather than political bias. Since then the Snowden disclosures about widespread electronic surveillance have captured public attention and these legislative proposals may be an attempt to bring attention back to a party-political sensitivity for the Administration..

Ironically the legislation is part of an initiative to “Stop Government Abuse” – which looks minor compared with Snowden’s disclosures.

It provides an option to immediately terminate the employment of senior executives neglecting their job, inappropriately using public money or behaving in a way that may endanger public interests. Process and appeal rights will be preserved although employee groups are criticising the “guilty until proven innocent” character of the legislation.  A concern is that the Senior Executive Service will implode with senior appointments being increasingly politicised, political appointees being outside the scope of the bill.