Federal Employee Redress

An Opportunity for Reform Gao ID: T-GGD-96-42 November 29, 1995

The redress system for federal workers seeks to protect these employees against arbitrary agency actions and prohibited personnel practices, such as discrimination or retaliation for whistleblowing. But how well is the redress system working and does it add to or detract from the fair and efficient operation of the federal government? This testimony makes three main points. First, because of the system's complexity and the variety of redress mechanisms available, it is inefficient, expensive, and time-consuming. Second, because the system strongly protects individual workers' redress rights, it is vulnerable to employees who would take undue advantage of these protections. Its protracted processes and requirements divert managers from more productive activities and inhibit some of them from addressing legitimate performance and conduct problems. Moreover, the demands of the system put pressure on employees and agencies alike to settle cases--regardless of their merits--to avoid potential costs. Third, alternatives to the current system do exist and may be worth further study as Congress considers modifying the federal system. Leading private sector employers told GAO that their managers are held accountable for treating people fairly but are also given the flexibility and discretion to make the tough decision that are an inevitable part of sound management. To the extent that the federal redress system is titled toward employee protections at the expense of the effective management of the nation's business, it deserves congressional attention.

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