Survey may show whether managers adhere to banned practices

By Federal Diary
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No matter where you turn, Uncle Sam has a long list of rules designed to make sure everything is done just right.

Not everything turns out that way, but at least the way forward is carefully outlined with reams of regulations.

When it comes to his staff, Sam has a list of things that managers should not do to workers, known as prohibited personnel practices. Now, the Merit Systems Protection Board is launching a broad research project to determine how well those don'ts are honored.

John Crum, the MSPB's policy and evaluations director, said the board will survey 60,000 federal workers over the summer. Though reports of discrimination have declined, "there are still issues of favoritism that concern federal employees," Crum said. "We're not sure it has gotten any better."

The survey will pay particular attention to whistleblowing. Results won't be available until early next year, Crum said.

The first part of the project is a report the board has just sent to President Obama and Congress. Titled "Prohibited Personnel Practices: A Study Retrospective," it summarizes previous MSPB studies on the prohibited practices.

"We have noted that the percentage of employees reporting discrimination based on ethnicity/race, sex, age, and religion have declined over time, while an increasing percentage of Federal employees believe that they are being treated fairly," the MSPB chairwoman, Susan Tsui Grundmann, wrote in a letter with the report.

"However, we have also acknowledged that the Federal Government still has work to do to ensure a workplace free of prohibited personnel practices. . . . Many employees believe that personnel decisions are often based on factors other than merit, such as favoritism. There is also a continuing gap between minority and nonminority employees' perceptions of the prevalence of discrimination and other prohibited personnel practices."

Unlike many of the government's rules and regulations, the prohibited practices are pretty clear. As listed in the report, they say officials shall not:

-- Discriminate against an employee or applicant based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status or political affiliation

-- Solicit or consider any recommendation that is not job related and based on personal knowledge of the employee or applicant

-- Coerce the political activity of any person

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