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As per the answer to Can the US President fire government employees for poor performance? it seems like government employees are very hard to fire in the US. Are there developed countries where this isn’t so and elected officials can terminate any government worker with ease?

I presume government employees are quite easy to fire in places like China or Russia, but curious if any developed countries share the same practice.

Update

Definition of "easy to fire": the head of the state/government (or their secretaries) can terminate any person directly employed by the government on the spot, without the possibility of appealing the decision. Said employee might receive some compensation and 3+ months of severance, but their employment is immediately terminated.

Possible Refinement

The question might be refined in this way: Are there any OECD countries where rank-and-file government employees (as opposed to top level political appointees) can be fired without cause?

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    I don't see the answer to that previous question indicating it was "very hard to do", if there were good reasons - 2 examples given are for whistleblowers. Only that there are safeguards against sacking civil servants without cause. Jan 16, 2023 at 0:35
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    Could you elaborate your criteria for "very hard" and "easy" to fire? In many countries employees in general are a lot harder to fire than in the US. There is often some additional protection for government employees, although the degree of protection and the range of jobs that is covered by such protection differs. E.g. jobs like nurses in public hospitals and teachers in public schools used to enjoy such protection in the past in my country, but that was mostly removed in the 1990s.
    – Hulk
    Jan 16, 2023 at 6:07
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    In the UK you can in practice fire anyone but will probably have to pay them compensation for unfair dismissal if you don't have a reason. I'm not sure if this counts as easy or hard, maybe it depends on the level of compensation.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 16, 2023 at 10:48
  • @Hulk very easy = head of the executive signs one document and any government worker is fired on the spot, with no appeal rights. They might get compensation or 3+ months of severance pay but their employment is terminated. Jan 16, 2023 at 14:15
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – gerrit
    Jan 17, 2023 at 18:20

4 Answers 4

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In : Yes, for certain high-level bureaucrats.

In Germany, some high-level posts are designated to be a Politischer Beamter (literally: political civil servant).

According to law (§ 30 Abs. 1 BeamtStG) a Politischer Beamter must "agree with the fundamental political positions and goals of the government". Therefore they can be put on temporary leave (einstweiliger Ruhestand) by the government (they cannot be fired though, and will continue to be paid, albeit at a lower rate).

A Politischer Beamter is sort of a hybrid between a government worker and a politician: They are legally government workers (specifically a Beamter, with special rights and responsibilities, but not elected) - however, they hold an office with so much responsibility that they have to make political decisions.

Politische Beamte are typically high-ranking officials, such as a Staatsekretär (the highest-ranking government worker in a ministry, directly under the minister). Politische Beamte are fairly rare - at the federal level there were 167 of them in 2010, out of a total of about 180.000 federal government officials.


However, apart from that, government workers are very hard (almost impossible) to fire unless they severely violate their duties, and elected politicians do not have special rights to fire them.

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    @Roland: Oh yes, sorry I forgot that while ministers are politicians that get their job by winning elections (with their party), they are technically appointed, not elected.
    – sleske
    Jan 16, 2023 at 10:33
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    In the UK there are similar positions e.g. special advisers (SpAds). Although I can't find precise rules on their firing, it is not unknown for them to be fired at the whim of ministers or senior party figures, although they can sometimes sue.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 16, 2023 at 10:48
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    The distinction here is that elected politicians can remove 'politische Beamte' from their position but if that happens the person will not be unemployed but rather continue working for the government in a less prominent position.
    – quarague
    Jan 16, 2023 at 14:41
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    This system is also what the US has, but to a far higher degree, hence the insane amount of new appointments with each new government over there. I just dn't know how the US codifies it
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 16, 2023 at 15:39
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    @Hobbamok There are roughly 9,000 federal government political appointees in the U.S. who are typically easy to fire. The positions covered are listed in a publication called the Plum Book (after the color of the publication and related I'm not sure which came first, to the concept of a "plum job"). commerce.gov/hr/practitioners/ses-policies/plum-book
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 16, 2023 at 20:47
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No.

Two things to keep in mind here:

  1. Being a "Developed" nation implies that a justified and fair procedure exist for any government action. An independent judiciary safeguards such procedures.

  2. Governments come and go, but the bureaucracy remains - bureaucrats are the backbone of any government, and no government likes to piss them off. That is why they also often have additional legal safeguards to protect them from political bias (as governments of different ideologies keep changing in a democracy), like clear guidelines on how to punish or dismiss them.

So, in any democracy, if an elected official is unhappy with some bureaucrat, the common procedure is to file a complain through the established procedures. Depending on how the law / rules / regulations are, an official, at worst, can be suspended pending the enquiry. Outright dismissal only happens in very rare case like corruption or any other criminal activity (again, this is rare because "developed" nations also subscribe to the principle of "innocent until proven guilty").

For the example you cited (of an FBI boss complaining to the President that he couldn't deliver because his subordinates were being lazy), what would realistically happen is that the President would start the process of finding a replacement for the current FBI chief for doing their job poorly!

Remember, that it is the FBI chief's job to get work done from his subordinate, and not bother the President with insignificant issues. In fact, that is why high-ranking bureaucrats have the powers to take actions against errant junior officials (up to a certain level) without needing to get government permission for the same.

(And note that even if any bureaucrat is punished or fired after an official enquiry, they still have the option of approaching the judiciary, and appealing their punishment or dismissal.)

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    Being a "Developed" nation implies that a justified and fair procedure exist for any government action => I wouldn’t say any. There’s some degree of “executive privilege” in every nation where the elected officials can make decisions without being forced to justify their actions to anyone but the voters. The only question is what the scope of said privilege is. Jan 16, 2023 at 14:30
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    Regarding point 2: The US here is in fact known for easily firing a lot of people with each government change because the level at which "bureaucrats" sit vs the (potentially) changing-with-each-election government people (mostly appointed, not elected) is far lower, so there is a far higher turnover and firing of government employees (which both appointed people and classical bureaucrats are) than in most western nations (western nations because I have no clue about a lot of other governments)
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 16, 2023 at 15:37
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    I agree that most developed countries have civil service protections, but it certainly isn't obvious to me without examining them one by one that this is the case. Maybe Andorra or Luxembourg manages without them. I don't know but I don't think that "development" definitionally requires civil service protections, particularly if there is an institutional culture of fairness in hiring and firing by government officials. Businesses with employment at will often act in a justified and fair manner anyway.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 17, 2023 at 2:10
  • @JonathanReez Can you give some examples? And when you say they only have to justify to their voters, do you mean these privileges are beyond any judicial review too?
    – sfxedit
    Jan 17, 2023 at 15:37
  • @sfxedit as an example, the US President controls the classification status of every document (except nuclear secrets) and can go on TV at any time and share whatever top secret information they’d like. The judicial system cannot punish them or stop them from sharing such information. But the votes can punish the President or their party at the next election cycle, if they’d like. Jan 17, 2023 at 15:57
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In , yes, but to a limited extent. Of the over two million civilian civil servants employed by the US federal government, the President can only fire about four thousand of them. These 4000 or so positions are listed in the Plum Book. The Plum Book says there are over 7000 positions that can be appointed (and most of them capable of being fired) by the President, but many of those are either perpetually vacant or are effectively career civil servant positions. This site, along with many others, say the actual number is about 4000. The President can appoint but cannot fire some of those positions. These are the non-competitive positions in the federal government's independent agencies. That's not a lot of people, so about 4000 remains the correct number.

President Reagan fired (and blacklisted) almost all of the air traffic controllers in 1981, and these were merit-based civil servant positions as opposed to presidentially-appointed positions. The loophole for that mass firing was that the air traffic controllers went on strike, thereby violating federal law that precludes strikes by civil servants.

President Trump attempted to create a new Schedule F that would have increased the number of presidentially-appointable and hence presidentially-firable civil servants by a factor of ten or more. His executive order was never implemented and was rescinded three days into President Biden's administration. However, the loophole President Trump's team found still exists. Congress has tried multiple times in the last two years to close that loophole but has failed each time.

Prior to 1883, when the US wasn't quite a developed nation, the federal government civil service used a spoils system ("to the victor belong the spoils"). This resulted in a lot of corruption, a lot of turmoil, and arguably the 1881 assassination of President Garfield. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 changed the spoils system into a merit-based system, for the most part. Presidents can still appoint top civil service positions, but this capability is limited.

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In Australia - yes, for the Secretary of each Department only.

This is covered in the Public Service Management Act, S58

In the case of the Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) Department, the appointment is made by the Governor-general (figurehead President) on the advice of the Prime Minister. They are the most senior public servant in Australia.

Secretaries of other Departments are appointed by the Governor-General, who acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, who acts on the advice of the Secretary of PM&C.

Department Secretaries are appointed for a specific term, but a new appointment can override an old one at any point, allowing the Prime Minister to fire any Department Secretary for no reason, for political or performance reason, or any reason not forbidden by discrimination legislation.

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