EPA union objects to Administrator's call to make firing employees easier

Thursday - 7/17/2014, 4:12pm EDT

By Dena Levitz
Federal News Radio

The largest union representing employees of the Environmental Protection Agency is challenging the EPA's administrator on a portion of her recent testimony to the House Oversight Committee that dealt with removing poor performers in her agency.

During a June hearing, Gina McCarthy, who is at the helm of the EPA, alluded to being open to changes to the civil service regulations that would make it easier to fire poor performing employees.

In response, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) sent a letter to McCarthy this week strongly objecting to any such changes and blaming EPA problems on management, not rank-and-file employees.

"We do not need to make it easier to fire employees. You need to hold your managers and senior staff accountable for their behavior. You need to take a hard look at the ‘country club' mentality that exists within management," the letter, signed by AFGE Council 238 President Karen Kellen, states. "There are a few bad employees in our ranks, but they are not all staff-level employees. Good people sometimes make bad managers. Moving a bad manager back to a staff position where he or she likely excelled should not be a failure, but a smart business move."

The union, according to the letter, doesn't support keeping problem employees around "unchecked."

"We counsel them to try to get them back on track," the letter states. "The employee needs to be clearly informed about the nature of the problem and given an opportunity to correct it."

Speeding up administrative processes

The June hearing ran for more than two and a half hours and covered a range of issues that EPA faces, from climate change-focused programs to the scandal revolving around former EPA employee and CIA impersonator John Beale.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), while questioning McCarthy, expressed frustration about several cases involving EPA employees caught watching hours of pornography online, who were not fired on the spot, as he said they deserved.

The EPA administrator said in some instances she's been hamstrung by administrative processes.

"Any way that we can make these processes move more quickly I'm all for it. But there is an administrative process we must follow," she said. "It's one thing to be upset. It's a second thing to successfully go through criminal and administrative procedures."

McCarthy added that she'd welcome Congress taking up "these challenges," in reference to barriers in firings.

The EPA tells Federal News Radio that the administrator is now reviewing the union's letter.

Press officer Alisha Johnson said McCarthy "believes it is in the public interest to ensure that the agency moves swiftly to initiate corrective action against any employee who is found to have engaged in wrongdoing. However, she also takes very seriously the integrity of due process protections afforded to all employees in the case of removals and other disciplinary actions." The statement continued, "EPA holds managers and employees to the same high standards. EPA treats managers and employees the same and will address supervisors who engage in wrongdoing or fail to exercise due care in their oversight responsibilities as we would any other employee."

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