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.
A case involving a federal worker challenging an adverse job action or termination would usually proceed to an administrative law judge (ALJ), then to the three member board, and finally, to federal court, if necessary.
The new law affecting the Veterans Affairs department and more particularly, the Senior Executive Service (SES) eliminates the oversight of the board and the federal courts, while compressing the time for the remaining steps.
SES employees only have seven days to appeal a termination, and an administrative law judge has to issue their decision within 21 days. In a complex case, these deadlines would essentially deprive a SES employee of any right of appeal of their firing.
It will further disrupt the scheduling of all cases, since any SES cases would need to receive immediate attention from the assigned ALJ, sending their docket into confusion.
The federal civil service law was created to end the abuses of the “spoils” system, where federal jobs were given as political favors. With this new VA law, a VA secretary could remove all of the SES employees and again pack the department political cronies.
A larger concern is that this attack on the civil service system is but the beginning of a political attempt to dismantle the merit system, and deprive federal employees of their due process rights and job protection.
Source: The Washington Post, “Merit board head says with new VA law ‘we are absolutely in new territory’,” Joe Davidson, August 10, 2014