The Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers went into effect Nov. 22, despite vocal opposition from some members of Congress. This mandate could result in more than a hundred thousand people being disciplined or fired for refusing to comply, even if those workers are otherwise excellent employees or if their loss will severely disrupt the government’s ability to function.
The White House reports that 92% of 3.5 million total federal workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Another 4.5% are considered “in compliance” by way of having requested an exemption, with some but not all of those exemptions having been approved thus far. Federal employees who had already resigned or found new employment due to the vaccine mandate are not included in these figures.
If all those exemptions granted for the 4.5% and 96.5% are “in compliance,” that’s still a likely loss of 3.5%, or 122,500 federal workers who are not willing to get vaccinated.
Under ordinary circumstances, firing even a single federal worker is extremely difficult. Federal managers attempting to fire an employee must prove “a preponderance of evidence” and prove that dismissing the employee will improve the performance of the agency.
At a minimum, firing a federal worker takes 170 days, but often it takes well over a year—and sometimes even two years. The nearly impossible process of firing a federal worker even with just cause means that federal managers almost never even attempt to dismiss or discipline workers.
According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, federal agencies dismissed 0.18% of their career permanent workforce in 2013.
In a complete disregard for what ordinarily constitute an excessive amount of protections for federal workers, the president’s vaccine mandate could allow federal employees—including the best, the brightest, the longest-serving, and even those crucial to federal missions—to be disciplined or dismissed exclusively because they make a personal health decision to not get a COVID-19 vaccine.
This means that the current administration could be directly responsible for firing more federal employees over the coming months than would ordinarily be fired over nearly two decades.
Dismissing workers without regard to their performance is not an effective way to run a business or a government, and the president’s action could cause significant delays and disruptions in federal services and increased costs for federal taxpayers.
Replacing workers is extremely costly. With record-high quits rates in the U.S.—including 4.4 million workers quitting their jobs in September alone—this is something businesses recognize and are trying to avoid.
The federal government’s action to impose a government-wide vaccine mandate without a testing option and without an exemption for workers with natural immunity will lead to significant vacancies and added costs to taxpayers.
On average, it takes 98 days to hire a federal worker, and then months of training and experience before they are fully productive. Some positions that require security clearances can take over a year to fill.
Based on 98 days to hire replacements, 122,500 federal layoffs would lead to 8.6 million days of lost work—the equivalent of about 33,000 lost years of work.
Sudden and haphazard losses in federal workers could mean limited access to speedy trials and court system delays, delayed tax returns, an even bigger border crisis, higher costs for defense programs and maintenance, and many more consequences.
The sudden loss of federal workers could have significant financial implications for taxpayers. With the estimated cost of hiring a new worker equal to between six and nine months of their salary, and an average salary of $91,314 among federal employees, replacing 175,000 federal workers could cost taxpayers between $5.6 billion and $8.4 billion.
In addition to delayed and potentially inaccessible government services, the loss or sidelining of servicemen and servicewomen could compromise Americans’ safety and security.
America’s military faces deadlines ranging from Nov. 2 through Dec.15 (with different dates for reservists). Vaccination rates are reportedly highest among the Navy, with 96.7% fully vaccinated, and lowest among the Marines, with 91% fully vaccinated (and 94% partially vaccinated).
Non-military departments and agencies also vary in their vaccination and compliance rates.
According to the White House, six of the 24 reported departments and agencies have vaccination rates below 90%, including the Department of Justice (89.8%), the Department of Homeland Security (88.9%), the Department of the Interior (88.3%), the Social Security Administration (87.7%), the Department of Veterans Affairs (87.8%), and the Department of Agriculture (86.1%).
Only five of the 24 reported departments and agencies have vaccination rates of 95% or higher, including: the Department of Education (95%), the Department of State (96.1%), the National Science Foundation (96.2%), the Department of Health and Human Services (96.4%), and the Agency for International Development (97.8%).
Compliance rates—which include unvaccinated workers who have sought exemptions—are higher and vary from lows of 94.7% at the Department of the Interior, 95.0% at the Social Security Administration, and 95.1% at the Department of Homeland Security to highs of 99.4% at the Department of Commerce and 99.6% at the Department of Transportation.
In issuing a vaccine mandate for federal workers, the administration argued that it would create a more efficient civil service, but in reality it will accomplish the opposite.
Unless the federal government can meet the same standard required of federal managers—that is, to prove that dismissing unvaccinated federal employees will improve the performance of the federal government (and that no other remedies such as testing options or exemptions for those with natural immunity would accomplish the same goal)—no federal workers should be stripped of their workplace protections over a personal decision that has nothing to do with their workplace performance.