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Shows & Panels
Off with their heads! What would Mick Jagger do?
Thursday - 5/23/2013, 2:00am EDT
Although details of the "scandals" at the IRS and Justice Department are still evolving, some critics say that heads should roll. The more the merrier and the sooner the better. Effective immediately, if not sooner.
One slight problem for the chop-chop crowd. This is Washington, D.C., in 2013 not Paris in 1789. The rules of disengagement have changed. A lot.
Backers of the clean-house approach want political appointees nailed, for sure. But they are also after any career civil servants involved in the question of who-gets-a-tax-exemption. Or career Justice Department types involved in the leaks-to-the-press probe.
(To add to the confusion the Justice Department, while under investigation by Congress, is investigating the IRS!)
However this unfolds and however long it lasts, blood-thirsty politicians and irate members of the media are in for a surprise. Because unlike a lot of places (especially places like the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate where staffers can be canned, anytime, like peaches) dislodging a federal worker is easier said than done.
Given the job-protection rules of the civil service, largely written by Congress and strengthened by union contracts, feds caught up in the current dung-slinging contest could still be on the payroll even as senators attacking them are losing their 2014 primaries.
It is not true that federal workers can't be fired. But it is true that, once past the probation period, it is tough to fire a fed for cause. In part because neither political party (especially when in power) wants a wholesale turnover of the civil service each time an outsider becomes an insider.
Many inside-the-Beltway types know the federal firing process and how difficult, by design, it is. Folks who don't know how the people side of the government works, or who think they do but don't, may be about to find out:
The page one headline in yesterday's Politico, a respected, aggressive tabloid published in D.C., said it all: "HEADS WON'T ROLL AT THE IRS: Labor Rules Give Workers Protection."
The well-researched piece then spelled out the appeals procedure in government, how long it can take and why the rules were written that way. It said once an employee is fired and makes his/her initial appeal it takes the Merit Systems Protection Board an average of 90 days to process it. If the employees are from Cincinnati (homebase of the IRS' tax-exempt operation), their appeal would be handled by MSPB's Chicago regional office. If the employee lost, his/her appeal would come to Washington where, Politico said, it could take another 245 days to handle. That's 335 days. Per case. That's almost a year.
Some career workers may actually be fired. Or pushed into retirement. Or put in a windowless closet or dead-end job until they quit. Or not. Meantime...
Other stories and scandals will have come and gone. Congress and the White house will be in full-throttle (literally and figuratively) for the mid-term elections. Some heads may roll, and blowback from the attacks could harm some congressional critics.
As Mick Jagger (a favorite of my grandfather) once famously sang:
"Time is on my side." So who is that going to be?
Most of the federal civilians in the state of Oklahoma work for Defense or the Air Force. But both the Postal Service and the Federal Aviation Administration have major operations there too. It's also where air traffic controllers get their training. So how are folks there bearing up?
Interior's Bureau of Land Management checked in to say that all 27 of its employees at the Moore, Okla., Field Station are safe after Monday's massive tornado hit the area. The office remains closed this week.
BLM Principal Deputy Director Neil Kornze said the agency is ready to help any staffer hit by the storm. Kornze said that a human resources specialist has been assigned to act as a family liaison to answer benefits questions and address any concerns employees may have. He also urged employees and their families to use the Employee Assistance Program if needed.
NEARLY USELESS FACTOID
Compiled by Jack Moore
NASA has awarded a $125,000 research grant to an Austin, Tex.-based contractor to fund the creation of a 3D-pizza printer. NASA says the technology could one day be used to feed astronauts on long space missions.
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