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Congress may strengthen whistleblower protection

When a federal employee sees something wrong within their department or agency, the public would likely encourage their reporting the problem. The federal government is huge operation and with any large, multi-faceted bureaucracy, there are problems. And that is why the need arises for employees to speak out and, if necessary, become a whistleblower.

For any federal employee, the decision to become a whistleblower is difficult. When they witness wronging or inappropriate behavior, they may feel compelled to report the problem to their supervisors or managers, but what if their managers are responsible for the problem?

MSPB finds furloughs not inefficient enough

Last year's sequestration and the furloughs that followed for many federal government employees caused a massive increase in the number of appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB). That agency, which typically handles a few thousand appeals in a year saw its caseload skyrocket to more than 30,000, the majority of which were from the Department of Defense.

Many of these furlough appeals have argued that the furlough caused inefficiencies, which seemingly would make it difficult for the agency to claim that the furlough promotes the "efficiency of the service." The MSPB, however, disagreed in a recent decision, where they noted that such inefficiencies were the natural result of any furlough.

With less due process, how do we know what we know?

It is always problematic when extreme cases are used as "examples" of a system. The Veterans Affairs healthcare system has many problems, as recent events have shown. Management at various levels has been accused of manipulating the scheduling system for veterans' doctor appointments, to create a more favorable appearance of the scheduling process.

Some of these problems may have been caused by unrealistic goals that came from higher levels. They may have provided insufficient resources to fund the necessary number doctors to enable the timely scheduling of appointments. However, sorting out the cases is a time consuming business, and rushing to fire employees because someone "knows something" is problematic and too often reckless and illegal. 

MSPB stays USDA whistleblower's termination

Whistleblowing is always a risky activity for any federal worker. Most employees of the federal government value their jobs, and many are motivated by a strong sense of public service, recognizing that what they do matters, protecting the safety of the public in dozens of roles.

The integrity of the food supply is important, as large, industrialized food processors and a nationwide transport system mean disease-carrying or contaminated food can arrive on consumer's dinner tables in a short time.

Constant surveillance of this system is necessary, and part of the process is the employment of federal food inspectors in processing plants. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector at hog slaughterhouse in Kansas noted that the plant violated various provisions of the Humane Method of Slaughter Act.

MSBP board members role eliminated in new VA law

Legal actions often proceed slowly. This is generally not due to judges having a poor work ethic. Courts and other legal proceedings are often slow for exactly the opposite reason; because the judges and their staff are so busy. Court dockets are often booked months in advance, meaning when new cases arise, they are sent to the back of the line, and that line may be rather long.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which oversees the federal civil service's disciplinary system, has been rather busy of late. Last year's sequestration and the unpaid furloughs that many federal workers endured, generated 30,000 appeals to the MSPB, which almost four times the agencies typical years' workload.

Fixing the VA by damaging employee due process rights

The new Veterans Affairs law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President has been praised as giving the new VA secretary the tools he will need to improve the agencies performance and allow it to recover from the healthcare scheduling scandal. It has also created a new precedent that must give all federal employees cause for concern.

Federal employees have traditionally had greater due process rights than most private sector employees because of the nature of their employer. The federal government has many political appointments, which could permit abuse and political pressure to be used to fire workers and fill their vacancies with political favors.

But they just moved your office, so what?

One area for employer abuse in situations involving whistleblowers is in the realm of office location and responsibilities. Employers can, of course, fire a whistleblower, which makes for an open and obvious set of damages for the employee.

But what happens to a federal worker when the "punishment" for whistleblowing is not so clear? A woman who raised concerns at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs hospital is currently living out this scenario. She had been the chief spokesperson for the hospital, but after she and a group of other employees raised concerns over a hospital director's handling of the budget, she was accused of improper conduct.

House bill will allow broader court review for whistleblowers

For federal employees involved in an adverse job action because of whistleblowing, a hearing in front of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) may be necessary. If the outcome of that hearing is not favorable, the employee may have to appeal their case to a federal court of appeals.

Before the enactment of the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, their right of appeal would have been limited to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. This court, sitting in Washington, D.C., has been particularly unfavorable for most whistleblowing cases involving federal workers.

MSPB rules to reinstate disability retirement benefits of Department of Justice employee

Federal workers who suffer a physical or mental injury related to their employment, may no longer be able to perform assigned work duties. In some cases, an individual's injury may be deemed temporary in nature and he or she may apply to receive workers' compensation through the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs. In other cases, an injury may be more permanent in nature and the government employer may be unable to provide sufficient accommodation to allow the individual to continue their employment. In these types of cases, a federal employee may qualify for disability retirement.

In cases where a federal employee is granted retirement based upon his or her disability, he or she can file to receive a disability retirement annuity. One recent appellate case that was filed with the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, involved the termination of a federal employee who qualified for a disability retirement annuity.

Federal employees removed, disciplined under the Hatch Act

With primary elections approaching, now is a good time to reiterate a few rules under the Hatch Act. The federal law, which was most recently amended in 2012, forbids federal workers from doing a number of things, all of which are political. Federal employees are forbidden to take part in political activities while at work or on federal property; receive or solicit political contributions while on duty; and run for office in a partisan election.

If a federal employee is found to be in violation of the Hatch Act, then he or she could face disciplinary action or removal. The Office of Special Counsel recently took such action against an employee of the United States Postal Service.

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