YOU'RE FIRED: New Congress and Old Rule Means Bad Federal Employees May Get the Boot

Lois Lerner

If you are tired of hearing about nothing being done to properly discipline or remove incompetent or miscreant federal employees, if you think the federal government with 2.1 million workers has grown much too big, the 115th Congress has done you a solid.


When the Republican majority of the House of Representatives passed its rules package on Jan. 3, it  revived a rule dating back to 1876 that gives members the authority to fire or cut the pay of federal employees legislatively.

According to Adam Mazmanian, the Holman Rule, named for 19th century Indiana congressman William Holman, permits House members to offer amendments to appropriations bills to the full House that cut spending. The rule is intended to block appropriations riders to increase spending from being offered on the House floor. But the rule also permits amendments that cover “the reduction of the number and salary of the officers of the United States,” or “the reduction of the compensation of any person paid out of the Treasury of the United States.”

Such terminations or pay cuts have the force of law, and supersede any civil service or other employment protections. As the Washington Examiner put it, This rule allows Congress not only to eliminate entire programs, but also to reassign or eliminate federal employees, individually or in groups.


But next time an Internal Revenue Service employee deletes emails when they were under congressional subpoena, or Veterans Affairs employees systematically manipulate the agency’s records in order to “earn performance bonuses,” or managers who steal from their agency, or engage in scandalous behavior at a conference like the infamous 2010 General Services Administration conference in Las Vegas, heads will roll.


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