Bill Valdez

Message from Your SEA President

There has been considerable interest within the SES community and the media about the directed reassignments of SES at various agencies, including the Department of The Interior.  

Shelby Hallmark, former Chair of the SEA Board of Directors and a retired SES who served at Interior, for example, wrote an op-ed for GovExec expressing his views, and Nicole Ogrysko of Federal News Radio has done an outstanding, and measured, job reporting on the Interior reassignments.

These articles highlight the fact that there is great concern about the reassignments and their potentially corrosive effect on morale and career leadership effectiveness at affected agencies.

Even if a reassignment is legal, that doesn’t necessarily make it a net benefit to the agency if it causes career SES to question the motives of their political leadership.   And, there is the matter of simple human dignity.  As one career SES said to SEA recently, “Who can argue against employees willing to be moved being more productive than those being drafted?  And what about our wanting the Federal government to be an employer of choice?  This means treating executives with sensitivity to their circumstances and recognizing the complexities of two-career families, not creating an environment in which people come to work every day not knowing if they will be next to get a ‘you've been reassigned’ email.”

To be clear, SEA’s position is that directed reassignments are legal and justified when appropriately utilized by agency leadership.  During my 20-year career at the Department of Energy I accepted two directed reassignments from my political leadership, including one to serve in an acting assistant secretary position.  Both times I did not have a technical background in the offices where I was reassigned, but I was reassigned to provide leadership, not technical direction.

I know of many other directed reassignments similar in nature.  In the George W. Bush Administration almost the entire headquarters leadership of a major office was reassigned to the field.  Some SES, for family reasons, chose to opt out of the reassignments and retired, but most accepted the reassignments because they were done legally and with appropriate justification.

This gets to the core of the issue: how does an SES know that a proposed reassignment is legal and appropriate?  Most SES do not fully understand their rights and obligations and only think about the possibility of a reassignment when they are potentially impacted.   This is why SEA provides resources to career SES and also offers two half-hour consultations with an attorney from the law firm of Shaw Bransford and Roth for affected SES.  

I would like to add one more resource: Constitutional Advocacy Protection

This letter, signed by 13 legal scholars, involves a case at the Department of Interior.  Without debating the relative merits of the case (a subject for the courts and other adjudicative bodies), I would point out that the letter is a primer on the history of reassignments and the rights that SES have under the law and administrative procedures.

A key passage of that letter:  “Congress recognized that the independence of the SES is critical to its success.  The system that pre-dated the CSRA ‘fail[ed] to provide adequate protection against politicization of the career service’ and ‘political abuse’ of civil servants.  S. Rep. 95-969, 11, 1978 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2723, 2733.  The CSRA was crafted to remedy that shortcoming and thus directs that the SES be administered to ‘provide for an executive system which is guided by the public interest and free from improper political interference.’  5 U.S.C. § 3131(13); id. § 3131(8) (directing that Senior Executives be ‘protect[ed] . . . from arbitrary or capricious actions’).”

The letter goes on to note the six ways that the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) protects the independence of career SES.   All career SES would benefit from closely reading this letter and taking advantage of the resources that SEA offers.

 

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