FMA Working to Protect DOD’s Probationary Period

In the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (P.L. 114-92), Congress gave the Department of Defense (DOD) authority to institute a two-year probationary period. FMA supported the change. Now there’s an effort currently underway to revert to a one-year probationary period via the FY2020 NDAA, and FMA is helping lead the charge for DOD to maintain its current policy.

When DOD announced the two-year probationary period in October 2016, it stated “One year often does not allow sufficient time for a supervisor to form conclusions regarding the performance of a new employee.” It noted new hires often “must spend much of the first year in training before beginning work, often rotate through various offices within the first year of employment, or because occupations are project-based and new employees don’t have an opportunity to demonstrate all the skills associated with their positions.” It concluded, “the longer probationary period offers employees a greater opportunity to showcase their talents and for supervisors to properly assess their capabilities.”

According to Chief Human Capitol Officers interviewed for a 2015 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (GAO-15-191), “supervisors often do not have enough time to adequately assess an individual’s performance before the probationary period ends, particularly when the occupation is complex or difficult to assess.” And President Trump, in his administration’s FY2020 budget request, is pushing for all agencies to have greater flexibility to use longer probationary periods.

FMA agrees with all of the above. As FMA National President Renee Johnson has noted in testimony before a Senate committee hearing, “probation is a time to evaluate the employee or manager and determine whether they are suited, not just for the initial position, but also for federal service.” Some career fields are so complex that it takes more than one year to properly train an entry-level employee. DOD’s current two-year probationary period benefits both the government and employees by allowing supervisors to make decisions based on the employees’ performance as fully trained employees – not just guessing at how they will perform after the training is completed.

Many occupations within DOD, including nuclear welding, as one example, require highly specialized, technical skills to carry out their duties. New employees must often master broad and complex policies and procedures to meet their agencies’ missions, necessitating several months of formal training followed by long periods of on-the-job instruction.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to consider its version of the FY2020 NDAA (H.R. 2500). Section 1102 of the bill would change DOD’s probationary period back to one year. There is no similar language in the Senate version (S. 1790), which passed on June 27 by a strong bipartisan vote of 86-8. FMA has been actively reaching out to both Senators and Representatives to respectfully urge them to reject Section 1102 of H.R. 2500 and maintain the current policy at DOD. Assuming Section 1102 remains in the bill as passed by the House, FMA will object to its inclusion in the final conference report.

There could be rough times ahead for the NDAA this year, even before it gets to conference. The bill, which provides authorization of appropriations for DOD, defense related activities, and establishes policy, has passed for 58 consecutive years. However, the House Armed Services Committee approved H.R. 2500 by a vote of 33-24. By way of comparison, the committee approved its version by a vote of 60-1 last year. The picture will begin to fill in this week as the full House considers H.R. 2500. And with rising tensions with Iran, disagreement on the creation of a new Space Force, and other potential issues, it is likely the House and Senate conference, required to iron out differences between the two bills, will be contentious. FMA will closely monitor the progress and work to ensure managers at DOD, and across the government, have the tools they need to be as effective as possible on behalf of the American people.

Posted in Hear it from FMA

Tags: Federal Managers Association, FMA

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