The Aug. 2 Post-Gazette contained a story about the lack of compliance in Veterans Administration hospitals with the VA's directive to conduct an action plan to contain Legionnaires' disease ("Review Finds Compliance Lacking in VA Facilities Nationwide").
This lack of compliance should not come as a surprise to anyone. The VA, like all federal agencies, is required to give first consideration in hiring to veterans. Secondly, federal agencies must consider affirmative action programs in hiring. Thirdly, government unions are very strong and I think they work to prevent the discharge of even the most incompetent employees. Finally, employees have recourse to the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they are threatened with discharge.
As a result, my theory is that government supervisors do not even attempt to take adverse action against anyone, no matter how poorly an employee performs. One agency supervisor once told me that he wouldn't fire an employee even if that employee did nothing on the job. As a result, federal employees know that they can get away with terrible performance and survive. Some have integrity and they perform well regardless of the actions, or inactions, of their fellow employees. Others take advantage of the situation and treat their job as a sinecure.
I believe that federal agencies are forced to hire individuals regardless of qualifications and are unable to fire those who can't or won't do the work. The PG and other media tend to blame VA directors and top administrators for disasters like the Legionnaires' disease outbreak at the VA hospital in Oakland. The blame should rather be put on the federal hiring and discharge standards that have been in place for the past 30 years.
The writer is a retired federal administrative law judge.