The real value of due process

Due process in federal agencies is under attack by those who wonder: Why does it take so long to bring wrongdoers to justice? Shouldn't violators be fired instantly, not kept on administrative leave?

Their perception is that due process protects the guilty. But in fact, the opposite is true.

For an employee against whom an offense can be proven, the consequences are inevitable. Due process can only ensure that the investigation is fair, the offense is proven, and that the penalty is fair and proportionate. Due process doesn't prevent punishment of the guilty.

It is for those who are innocent that due process matters the most. If employees can be punished without a thorough investigation, a fair hearing, a chance to respond to charges, then the falsely accused have no recourse. The case of Shirley Sherrod shows clearly how knee-jerk punishment, acting without facts, can get things 100% wrong. Bad data lead to bad decisions. And if the rush to judgment results from retaliation or other ulterior motives, then there are two wrongs: the dismissal of an innocent employee, and the wrongdoing of another going unpunished.

Managers and politicians like to talk about "accountability." Accountability is not only for rank-and-file employees. It is for managers, too. They must be able to support disciplinary decisions with solid evidence. Due process is part of accountability.