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Bill Favored By Rep. Plaskett Seeks To End Indefinite Paid Leave For Federal Employees

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Federal agencies could no longer put employees on indefinite paid leave while investigating them for misconduct or poor performance under a bill that passed the House Tuesday.

The measure is one of many seeking to limit “administrative leave” following investigations finding that agencies had used that form of leave routinely to keep employees off the job, although with full pay and benefits, for months — and in some cases a year or more.

The bill would limit such leave to 14 days; if an investigation were not finished by then, the employee generally would have to return to work. If the agency decided that the employee would pose certain risks, even if assigned to different duties or to telecommuting, the leave could be extended for additional 30-day periods, with reports to Congress required each time.

“When used properly, administrative leave provides agencies with the flexibility needed to better manage human resources and to get to the bottom of certain situations, but it has become a tool that agencies hide behind with far too little oversight and accountability,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) said the bill “strikes the appropriate balance, we believe, between the need for stricter oversight of agency use of administrative leave and the due process rights of federal employees.”

A similar bipartisan bill that has passed the Senate counterpart committee also would require fuller reporting of other reasons that agencies grant such leave, such as for weather emergencies.

Also approved by voice vote was a bill addressing situations in which employees resign while being investigated for conduct or performance reasons.

Under the bill, if the agency later made an “adverse” finding against the employee, it would have to note that in personnel records and the employee would have the right to challenge that finding. Also, when considering hiring someone who formerly worked for the government, an agency would have to review prior records.

“Bad actors should not be able to resign from government service with clean slates and effectively dupe another agency that will then be hiring them. However, this bill also ensures that separated employees are provided the opportunity to contest the findings of an investigation,” Chaffetz said.

“I think we can agree that measures need to be taken to prevent such incidents from happening in order to protect the integrity of the federal workforce,” Plaskett said.

The votes occurred a week after the House passed a measure to bar the Internal Revenue Service from rehiring anyone it previously employed who it fired for misconduct or poor performance.

That was one of three bills passed last week that target the IRS workforce. Another would bar the agency from hiring any new employee until it certifies that it does not employ anyone with an outstanding tax debt for which the IRS has filed a notice of lien in public records, with certain exceptions. The third would prohibit paying performance awards to IRS employees until a new customer-service strategy is under way.

Several other bills before Congress focus on disciplinary practices at another agency at the center of recent controversies, the Department of Veterans Affairs. The department recently proposed limiting the appeals rights of its senior executives beyond even the restrictions imposed on them in 2014, while a bill that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate would restrict appeal rights across the department.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has signaled that disciplinary issues will be part of a larger bill it hopes to unveil and move soon.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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