Workforce

MSPB inches closer to addressing massive backlog

Man picking a single green piece among white pieces 

A Senate panel on July 20 advanced three of President Donald Trump's nominees to serve on the Merit Systems Protection Board, a step toward ending the board's longest-ever period without a functioning quorum.

MSPB's three-member board serves as an independent body that reviews federal workforce merit principles and adjudicates appeals. Its mission is to protect civil servants from political interference, cronyism and discrimination. The board has lacked a quorum since Jan. 7, 2017 leaving it unable to issue decisions that require a vote.

As of June, the board has a backlog of more than 1,200 cases that's almost entirely built since January 2017.

Dennis Dean Kirk, who most recently worked in the Army's general counsel after three decades in a private law practice, was nominated to serve as MSPB chairman.

Andrew Maunz was nominated to serve as vice chairman and Julia Akins Clark was nominated to serve as a board member.

Maunz most recently worked in the office of general counsel of the Social Security Administration. Clark served as general counsel for the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers labor union, as general counsel for the Federal Labor Relations Authority and most recently as deputy general counsel in the legislative branch's Office of Compliance.

The impact of the growing backlog of cases and inability to rule on appeals was not lost on senators at the July 19 hearing of the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

"I worry that this lack of urgency to have a quorum has already had negative impacts on whistleblowers and sends message to potential whistleblowers their protection is not a priority," said Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) at the July 19 Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee hearing.

Subcommittee Chairman James Lankford (R-Okla.) cautioned the nominees against sacrificing the purpose of the board to get through the "untenable" backlog.

"What I need to hear from you is this group is not going to feel the obligation to hurry and to not give a full hearing to the cases coming before them," Lankford said. "You're going to feel the pressure of getting to get caught up on the backlog, but that individual who's been waiting a long time is feeling the pressure of waiting that long to get a good decision on it."

The three nominees emphasized the importance of adjudicating these cases quickly, while upholding civil service laws and attracting the best federal workforce.

On the House side, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee advanced a bill earlier this week that would reduce the amount of time employees have to appeal a firing, as well as the MSPB's time to adjudicate decisions.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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