Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., spent many years running a small business, and in that time he had to hire and fire many employees.
It is that experience that led the Republican lawmaker to head the House panel with direct oversight of the federal workforce. Meadows will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s revamped Government Operations Subcommittee, which, in addition to its oversight responsibilities, will be the primary forum for crafting the committee’s legislation.
Meadows’ chief goal as chairman is two-pronged: hold poor performers more accountable, and find better ways to reward those who do their jobs well.
“We have an outstanding federal workforce,” Meadows said in an interview with Government Executive, “and yet, we have a few people within it who will either abuse that or take advantage of the system and not be held accountable. Because of that, in the eyes of many of our fellow Americans, it gives the federal workforce a bad name.”
To change that perception, Meadows said, lawmakers need to reform the system. What does reform look like? Treating federal employees more like their private sector counterparts, similar to the way Meadows used to deal with his own workers.
Now in just his second term, Meadows said he wants more of an “emphasis on making sure the federal workplace is not just efficient and accountable, but also one that is a healthy and friendly work environment.” He added that in his mind, those two things “go hand in hand.” When federal employees see those not carrying their weight go unpunished, they feel disheartened.
Seeing firsthand the difficulties agencies have in dealing with poor performers has been “eye opening,” Meadows said, adding that employers should be able to “address it and move on.”
For Meadows, that stick should also come with a carrot—with a renewed focus on bonuses for outstanding work. Ultimately, his goal is “making sure we have the best, the brightest and well-compensated federal workforce.”
He said he has a responsibility to let members of his own caucus and the public know that most federal employees are not the bad apples that grab headlines.
“Don’t paint all federal employees with a very broad brush,” Meadows warned. “I have found some of the most dedicated and oftentimes underpaid people in the country work for the federal government.”
Meadows hasn’t always been so magnanimous towards federal employees. As a freshman legislator in 2013, he was dubbed the “man behind the shutdown.” He defended his actions as simply part of an effort to defeat the Affordable Care Act, not an attempt to prevent agencies from carrying out their missions.
More recently, in response to accusations that Internal Revenue Service employees destroyed official documents while under investigation, Meadows introduced the Federal Records Accountability Act. The bill — which cleared the House in the 113th Congress but floundered in the Senate — would have required federal agencies to fire any employees found guilty of destroying or manipulating records.
Meadows said that bill and other oversight committee legislation that failed to pass the previous Congress would be first on the schedule under the leadership of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. Chaffetz, who took the reins from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has said he hopes to advance a bill requiring federal agencies to fire any employees delinquent on tax debts, which he has put forward in each of the last two sessions of Congress. Another measure to make it easier for agencies to dismiss senior executives will also likely make its way onto the agenda, according to Meadows and the bill’s sponsor in the last Congress, Rep Tim Walberg, R-Mich.
As a former businessman, Meadows said he has worked favorably with unions to find common ground, and expects to do the same in his new role. Under new leadership, Meadows said he anticipated both his panel and the full oversight committee would form better working relationships with Democrats and stakeholders to focus on solutions to federal workforce problems.