The Jan. 7 editorial “Open season on the civil service” focused on the main threat to the federal civil service from the Republican-controlled House in reviving the 1876 Holman Rule. The rule allows individual members of Congress to target specific federal workers for firing or salary reduction and/or individual government offices for reduction or elimination. Not well-publicized was the potential of the rule for fostering corruption.
For example, someone under Internal Revenue Service audit could attempt to induce a friendly member of Congress to use the rule to target and threaten the IRS workers and office involved in the audit with salary cuts or job elimination — based on any excuse. Whether a worker is disciplined or fired or the office reduced or eliminated, the targeted worker would divert time and attention to defend himself, leaving him unable to complete the audit or other tasks. Worse, the worker could be threatened with retaliation and coerced into a deal to drop the audit. This would be a tragedy because the federal civil service has been notably free of corruption. The potential mischief is limited only by someone’s imagination.
Did anyone in the Republican caucus think about this rule’s potential for misuse?
Arthur Katz, Rockville
In May 1992, as president of the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters employees union (AFGE Local 4060), I testified before a Senate subcommittee regarding the gross mismanagement of FEMA, including our lack of preparedness for natural disasters. My bosses weren’t at all pleased, but my civil service and union protection meant that I couldn’t just be fired. A few months later, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, and my warnings about FEMA’s problems were proved correct. I kept my job and continued in federal service until my retirement.
What would have happened to me under the proposed changes to civil service and union protection? What would happen to the next whistleblower under the proposed new rules?
Leo Bosner, Washington
The Holman Rule allows Congress to reduce the salary of an individual federal employee. This violates the spirit of the Constitution, in particular the prohibition on bills of attainder in Article I, Section 9. It is self-evident that this will have a chilling effect on free expression by federal employees outside of their official duties in an era in which simple facts are controversial.
Zachary Levine, Rockville