Gov Career

By Phil Piemonte

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Favoritism and other pernicious practices

More than a few readers of this blog have indicated that they believe favoritism is alive and well in the federal workplace.

And as all — or most or perhaps many — feds know, there is a clear prohibition against favoritism spelled out in Merit Principle No. 8, as follows:

“Employees should be —

(A) protected against arbitrary action, personal favoritism, or coercion for partisan political purposes, and

(B) prohibited from using their official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election or a nomination for election.”

Then again, the articles of the Constitution seem simple enough on the surface, too. The first part of No. 8 — Part A — protects feds against favoritism from above, as well as from political pressure and arbitrary actions against them by agencies. At the same time, Part B protects feds from other feds, in terms of any political pressure they might apply to one another.

According to the Merit Systems Protection Board, Part A incorporates an idea that traces back to the Pendleton Act of 1883 — that feds should not be subject to a patronage or “spoils” system. Under that system, civil servants’ continued employment depended on whether they voted the way their bosses told them to vote, and bosses hired employees according to their personal preferences rather than based on a person’s merit.

At the same time, Part B puts a restriction on feds themselves by barring them from using their authority or office to influence nominations and elections. In applying Principle No. 8, MSPB notes that the right to be free from political coercion is so important that it is “extended even to probationary employees who do not have the same appeal rights that tenured employees have.”

The prohibition of the activities in Part B is enforced primarily through something called the 1939 Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s because it’s usually referred to by the name of its author, a senator from New Mexico named Carl Hatch.

The Hatch Act, if you’ve been properly informed, prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan political activities while on duty, wearing a uniform, or using a government vehicle or computer, among other things. The bottom line is that feds are forbidden from using their official capacity in any way to influence an election.

Although some feds commenting on this blog have expressed different opinions on MSPB’s effectiveness in enforcing Part A, the section on favoritism, they should note that MSPB also does pre-emptive work on the issue by vetting — and sometimes turning back — regulations that might open up feds to violations of Principle No. 8.

And of course, the board’s Office of Policy and Evaluation also does a good bit of research on how well the merit system and the federal workforce are faring. It did that in a December 2009 report, “Fair and Equitable Treatment: Progress Made and Challenges Remaining,” which showed that “a substantial percentage of federal employees harbor concerns about the impact of favoritism on management decisions.”

So fear not, MSPB — like many readers of this blog — also knows that favoritism is alive and well in the federal workplace.

Posted by Phil Piemonte on Aug 09, 2011 at 4:02 PM


Reader comments

Wed, Apr 18, 2012 Disenheartened

In 2010 I had an amazing annual review. I had been in my position as a newer federal worker for 3 years. The review was "excellent", I received a 2% bonus and two award days. Three months later I fell at work and fractured my foot, needed surgery and was diagnosed with RSD. I worried about work more than I worried about my pain. After 9 month's of trying to work, working part time with WC benefit, deal with pain and medications, taking sick leave instead of going to doctor for more WC time. I had a melt down and my primary doctor took me off work for the past 6 months. We are now doing a "baby step" 2 hrs. 2 days, 2 weeks and climb from there. My supervisor has been everything from nice to hostile. She's know to be both. It isn't just me that has had problems with her. I have watched so many co-workers deal with the same thing. When I returned on my second day she passed by my cubicle and a "welcome back" came out of her (like I'd been on vacation for a week or something).....anyway it is so disheartening when so many employees in my department could have the "excellent" review too and because of this manager's bullying, controll, micromanaging, favortism, meanness, and hostility only the favored move forward. Yes, in 2010 I was being favored I also was working hard and since I was favored it was recognized. I knew it then and I know it now. I hope to relocate in the near future and start fresh. I doubt whether I will get much for a reference but I just hang on to the fact that the next manager can see my annual review and question how a review can be so good then after an injury things could not look so positive. In my last self assessment I showed very clearly how many responsibilities had changed and although I am still in a healing process my work ethics have not changed. I just hope that the next employeer/manager is looking to grow the staff instead of trying to break them down. The Union that represents my department has so many grievences filed by employees and the union has done there own....nothing changes. I have seen it get worse for my co-workers when they have tried to get help. It's so hard to stop someone like this.

Sat, Feb 18, 2012 Luchy

Favoritism is well rooted and allowed in the federal system and there are no guidelines on mitigating its incidences. Woking morale declines with the tolerance to clearly visible plays of personal favoritism in the system. Move out, move up, change your gender, or learn how to suck up. Experience and professional skillsets matter less when you are not in favor by your management persons. The tendency of dictating exists at all non-election levels.

Fri, Jan 20, 2012

this not myth for sure. Seen it, over and over, in several organizations. It is always done in a way that it can't be proven. It appears that it really pays to hob knob with the big wigs and rub elbows with the higher ups.

Wed, Jan 4, 2012

For the person making an inquiry about veterans being hired, I just wanted to let her know why this is. Over the years Veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country and that is why Congress created Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans.
Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA)
Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1998, as amended (VEOA)
30% or More Disabled Veteran
Special Hiring Authorities for Veterans are just that…designed for veterans.

Wed, Jan 4, 2012

I applied for a Congressional Liaison position in June and my name was referred to the hiring official for four different openings. I never got the opportunity to interview for any of these openings however when the person (s) they had in mind declined or were not as highly qualified they pull the announcement and re-announce the jobs. I was so disappointed that I did not re-apply.

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