Having laid down basic standards of accountability at EEOC, Thomas now sought to make them stick. As one of the more notorious havens of inept and indolent employees within the federal government, EEOC had come to be known among other federal employees as the "turkey farm." Norton's neglectful tenure had not helped matters. By the time Thomas arrived, EEOC had become an unofficial dumping ground for some of the worst of the worst in the federal personnel system, a sort of penitentiary for substandard employees—except that there were no guards, and everyone went home at night reasonably well paid.
One EEOC employee who became famous within the agency right before Thomas's arrival exemplified this state of affairs. First, she was caught falsifying her time records in order to embezzle $4,000 for work not performed. Instead of being sent to jail, she was given a thirty-day suspension. Subsequently she became the toast of the agency and received a cash award when she brokered a peace accord among factions in the agency that previously had refused to share their telephone numbers with each other. From her efforts, the agency telephone directory was born.
Improving the quality of service at the agency was not simply a matter of dismissing poor employees and hiring new ones. Federal law prohibited Thomas from taking this commonsense step, one that any private business would have favored. Federal employees who became part of the civil service could be dismissed only for cause, and then only after their managers had complied with an exhausting code of statutes and regulations. If managers wished to discipline an employee, they had to counsel the employee first and give him a chance to correct his deficiencies. If they then decided to try to discharge the employee, they had to inform him of their intention in advance. The employee had a right