FMA Pushes for Extension of Probationary Period
On Thursday, November 2nd, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform marked up the EQUALS Act of 2017 (H.R. 4182) by a vote of 19 – 17. H.R. 4182 was introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-KY) and would extend the probationary period for employees entering the federal workforce to two years upon the completion of formal training.
Unlike numerous bills marked up in Congress this session, the debate surrounding this bill was nuanced and constructive from both sides. The extension of the probationary period is an issue that the Federal Managers Association (FMA) has been working on for many years.
Currently, the probationary periods are different for different agencies with many at the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration, and others having a period lasting a year from the date of hire. The probationary period exists for several reasons, one of which is that it gives managers time to assess whether the new hire is suitable for the position and public service for a period of time while they are on the job. During this time, it is much easier to dismiss a federal employee before the agency chooses to invest more resources in developing them. However, after speaking with the members of FMA, it became clear that managers are often unable to properly assess and evaluate a new employee with only a year-long probationary period. This especially rings true with new hires for specialized positions which require long periods of training which could take up a majority or exceed the one-year probationary period.
In the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, a provision was included to extend the probationary period for all Department of Defense (DOD) employees to two years from the date they were hired. With a large percentage of FMA’s members being civilian DOD employees, the feedback we have received from this policy has been very positive. Two years from the date of hire gives managers a sufficient amount of time to assess an employee, and also gives an employee more time to demonstrate their acumen and proficiency. This is the primary reason we have been supportive of extending the probationary period across the federal government to make it uniform with the policy at DOD.
At the mark-up, Representative Comer quoted FMA National President Renee Johnson’s February 2017 testimony before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee as justification for the extension of the probationary period. Representative Comer also submitted into public record a letter of support from the Government Managers Coalition, of which FMA is a member. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the Ranking Member of the committee, stated he was not in favor of the bill because he felt the committee does not have enough information on the policy.
Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA) introduced an amendment which called for a comprehensive study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the two-year probationary period that is now in effect at DOD. FMA supports such a study since it would help determine the effectiveness of the DOD policy. Subsequently, Representative Cartwright (D-PA) said the EQUALS Act is a reasonable bill, but in order to make a decision on it, further research is required and both labor and management must have a seat at the table. The amendment was not approved and the bill was reported out unamended.
As the EQUALS Act moves to the House floor, FMA will continue to support the bill as an important step in the right direction. However, FMA will also continue to work with allies in the Senate to align the probationary period with DOD policy. We welcome continued discussion from all stakeholders and look forward to identifying solutions for this important and challenging issue.
Written by the Federal Managers Association (FMA). To learn more, visit their website: FedManagers.org
Posted in Hear it from FMA