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Cummings Issues Statement on House Floor Opposing GOP Bill Attacking the Rights of Federal Employees

Jul 6, 2016
Press Release

Cummings Issues Statement on House Floor Opposing GOP Bill Attacking the Rights of Federal Employees

 

Washington, DC (July 6, 2016)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, spoke on the House floor in opposition to H.R. 4361, the Government Reform and Improvement Act of 2016.

 

The bill would undermine due process protections, enable retaliation against whistleblowers, prevent the President from finalizing rules during his last months in office, and override collective bargaining rights for federal employees.  In addition, this bill includes provisions opposed by organizations representing federal employees and the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards. Democratic Members on the Oversight Committee opposed this bill.

 

 

 

Below are Ranking Member Cummings’ remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the House floor today:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in strong opposition to this legislation, which is yet another Republican assault on federal employees and the Obama Administration.

Some Members claim this is a good government bill.  That is simply not true. 

This legislation is a mish-mash of several bills that would damage employee rights, weaken public health and safety, and do little if anything to advance government reform.

Although there are many troublesome provisions, I will focus on the more harmful parts of this bill.

First, this bill would allow agency heads to fire senior executives with little notice. 

A senior executive would be allowed to appeal an agency decision only after removal.  The agency’s decision would be deemed final if an administrative judge failed to issue a decision within 21 days.  This could bind an executive to an agency’s decision by default rather than by a judgment on the merits of his or her case.  How is this fair?   

Almost identical provisions were included in a law enacted in 2014, affecting the Department of Veterans Affairs, and not surprisingly, they are being challenged on Constitutional grounds in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Department of Justice has acknowledged some of the Constitutional infirmities by choosing not to defend some of these provisions.    

This bill also would lengthen the probationary period for new employees from one year to two years.  During this extended probationary period, these workers essentially would be “at-will” employees. 

They would have minimal due process rights if they are unfairly fired, and they would have minimal appeal rights if unwarranted disciplinary action is taken against them.

I understand that this legislation is intended to provide agencies with more authority to root out so-called bad apples from the federal workforce. 

However, I do not believe the solution to getting rid of the few bad apples is to attack the due process rights of millions of hardworking, dedicated federal employees who serve the American people honorably every single day. 

These provisions would also endanger whistleblowers and make employees more vulnerable to retaliation for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse.

History has shown why these due process protections are necessary.  I would like to read from a report issued by the Merit Systems Protection Board in 2015.  It states:

“Due process is there for the whistleblower, the employee who belongs to the ‘wrong’ political party, the reservist whose periods of military service are inconvenient to the boss, the scapegoat, and the person who has been misjudged based on faulty information.  Due process is a constitutional requirement and a small price to pay to ensure the American people receive a merit-based civil service rather than a corrupt spoils system.”

We must remember that Congress put in place these due process protections to eliminate the spoils system.  Now, by trying to move federal employees back to being “at will” employees, our Republican colleagues would be returning us to that broken and dangerous system.

Another misguided provision in this bill would block the President from finalizing significant regulations during the last months of his term, even if those regulations have been in the works for an extended period of time. 

Blocking agencies from finalizing rules they have been working on for years just because it is the end of a President’s term is not good policy or good government.

I would like to place into the record a letter from the American Association for Justice dated February 29, 2016.  The letter states: 

“This misguided bill would jeopardize crucial public protections by blocking regulations based on timing alone.  It presumes the regulations which are proposed or finalized during the so-called “midnight” rulemaking period are rushed and inadequately vetted.  Yet many of the regulations which this moratorium would apply to have been in the regulatory process for years.”

Contrary to what our Republican colleagues may believe, the President is the President until January 20, 2017, according to the Constitution. 

Just as Republicans are wrong for blocking the President’s Supreme Court nominee in the last year of his term, this provision is also wrong for attempting to curtail the authority of the President to protect the interests of the American people. 

I urge my colleagues to join me in opposing H.R. 4361, and I reserve the balance of my time.

114th Congress