Federal Managers Pass Off Bad Workers with Great Evals

Many federal managers give highly inflated evaluations to bad employees in hopes they will get promoted to another assignment, a practice dubbed “Export Packing,” reports Government Executive magazine’s William Rudman.

Hiring a federal employee might seem like a sure bet with the recommendation of a former boss. But think again. A common complaint among federal managers is that they were duped by fellow bosses who said an employee was a competent and terrific person when in truth the supervisor was trying to get rid of a performance or behavior problem. Needless to say, managers are more likely to say they’re on the receiving end of the ancient art of “packing for exportation” than to confess to foisting bad apples on others with bogus evaluations. How does one guard against export packing and what, if any, are the legal implications?


Many managers are afraid of being sued by current or former employees, but this fear is ill-founded. The Supreme Court ruled in 1983 in Bush v. Lucas that federal employees cannot sue federal managers for anything arising from a personnel action or the employer-employee relationship. If trouble does arise, then it most likely would come from the other side. Agencies that tolerate the export packing of violent employees, sexual harassers or those whose negligence has endangered lives risk, at the minimum, excoriation by the press and Congress.


All managers can do is question the candidate closely, try to find supervisors and co-workers willing to speak candidly, and look for the warning signs: short tenure, willingness to accept a seemingly lesser position, a history of hopping from agency to agency, and failure to list current or former supervisors and colleagues as references.

Following these steps, managers can reduce — but, unfortunately, not eliminate — the chances of being scammed by an exporter.

Integrity on the part of tenured public employees in supervisory positions, alas, is too much to hope for.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Supreme Court, Uncategorized
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James, when you were on active duty, surely you heard the saying, “Screw up, move up.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Don: I’ve heard the saying but it was seldom true. OERs were inflated, to be sure, but across the board. Still, the top blocks were almost always given to those the commander legitimately thought were the best. While I sometimes differed with the commander’s judgment–showboaters occasionally beat the system–I never had a sense that they were giving out the best ratings to those who were the worst officers or soldiers.

  3. Randall says:

    How true it is. Come to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City. It’s well known that good workers get low evaluations while bad workers get higher numbers. 81 points seems to be the magic number to promotion. Managers will deny this, but they do not want to loose good workers so they give them lower evaluation numbers, while they want to be rid of the lazy unmotivated type of worker so they get higher marks thus making them more promotable. Whats really sad is that the AFL-CIO crybaby members usually get the best numbers and are at times are some of the worst workers. I should add that a lot of supervisors in my workplace are high-school graduates who are not qualified to make an objective evaluation of a worker. Not all federal workers are poor employees, and not all federal managers are lacking in qualifications, as for me, I am a blue collar worker trying to finish a BS in business management, but if the system does not change I will go from a hard worker with low numbers to a screw-off with high numbers. Thanks for letting me vent.

  4. John Burgess says:

    The article errs in saying that managers fear being sued. Most managers know that they cannot be held personally liable.

    What bad OERs can produce, though, are unending pains in the ass. Even though a given personnel action may be ungrievable by definition doesn’t mean that the adversely affected employee won’t grieve or that the union won’t support the grievance, all the way to the bitter end.

    I recall one grievance filed against me that had to do with something that was explicitly spelled out in the labor contract as non-grievable. It still took up six months of my time and three separate levels of hearings before it got the wooden stake.

    And I was dealing with another grievance six months after I’d retired!

    Avoiding confrontations involving HR/Personnel is simply pain-avoidance. If you can make the pain go away by making it someone else’s pain, that’s sometimes an effective solution to the immediate problem. It does nothing to solve the underlying problem, of course.

  5. Mac says:

    Oh please.

    Promoting a slacker or problem employee out of your department is a time honored trick at most major corporations.

    As an IT consultant I’ve worked for many Fortune 500 companies, and I’ve seen this paradigm at virutally all of them.

    The Feds hardly have a monopoly on this sort of behavior.

  6. Randall says:

    Mac, I agree with you all the way. The problem that I see is how in federal service managers get offended that they would even be accused of such an unethical practice. Everything is done by the book, all promotions approved are well earned. Yea right,and politicians don’t lie!

  7. legion says:

    The lack of integrity is bad, but it’s an unsurprising response to the civil service system – it’s so incredibly hard to actually demote or fire bad workers that this is literally the only way many supervisors have to get rid of losers.

    In other words – hate the game, not the player 🙂