MSPB seeks more money to handle massive backlog

To address its massive and growing backlog, the panel that reviews federal workplace complaints is asking to "bypass" the White House's budget request.

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To address its massive and growing backlog, the panel that reviews federal workplace complaints is asking to "bypass" the White House's budget request.

In doing so, the Merit Systems Protection Board asked Congress for a $4.5 million increase over the president's proposed budget of about $42 million for fiscal year 2020.

The board's budget request "accurately funds our authorized full-time equivalents (FTE), and provides the level necessary for critical functions," such as human capital planning and IT modernization, MSPB stated in its budget justification.

The White House's fiscal year 2020 proposal would constitute a 10% cut, and if enacted "MSPB will have to cut its workforce since personnel costs represent approximately 80% of our budget," the document stated.

The $4.5 million increase in funding MSPB is seeking "represents the cost to maintain the 235 FTE staffing level," which "is necessary to perform the mission-critical work of the agency."

The funding also would go toward addressing the ever-increasing number of cases. The current backlog requiring board action is 1,837 cases, almost all of which have accumulated under the Trump administration, per MSPB's most recent data. The total number of petitions for review at headquarters now tops 2,000.

For the entirety of the Trump administration, the MSPB has been without the three-member quorum it needs to issue decisions for cases that require a vote. The mission of the board is to protect civil servants from political interference, cronyism and discrimination.

Before his term expired March 1, Mark Robbins had served as the lone member of the MSPB since January 2017, by far the longest period the board has gone without a quorum. Two nominees await Senate confirmation, but currently there are no members on the MSPB.

The proposed budget cut presents a challenge for MSPB as its backlog grows and its workload increases. In addition to the appeals cases, the increase of retirement cases before MSPB "will likely increase" in the coming years, the board said. Plus, it noted, one of the White House's workforce executive orders, aimed at making it easier to fire federal employees, will likely "increase the number of hearings … in those cases that otherwise may have been settled."

The board also stated that the increased budget will help its IT modernization effort to replace legacy systems and move towards 100% electronic adjudication of appeals.

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