For just over five years, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) had gone without top leadership. This meant the board was unable to fully complete its work. But what is that work? What does it mean that the MSPB once again, finally, has a governing quorum of central panel members?
Three core responsibilities
As noted on the MSPB’s website, the board sprang into existence in 1979 as part of the reorganization of the Civil Service Commission. The reorganization divided the commission’s responsibilities between three agencies, and the MSPB inherited its authority over employee appeals. However, the reorganization also assigned new responsibilities to the MSPB that had not existed with the Civil Service Commission.
As a result, the MSPB has three core functions as part of its mission to “promote an effective Federal workforce free of Prohibited Personnel Practices.”
- Resolve employee appeals of cases related to performance, discipline, misconduct, retaliation and other adverse actions
- Conduct studies into Federal merit systems
- Review the new regulations implemented by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)
During the five years the MSPB went without a quorum of central panel members, it could not fulfill all these duties. This is something of a bitter irony, given the fact the MSPB’s stated values include “timeliness.”
The MSPB is ready to dig into its backlog
According to the Government Executive, the MSPB currently has a backlog of more than 3,500 appealed cases waiting for review. Because the Senate has finally approved a pair of new appointments to the central panel, the MSPB can start digging into these cases.
Obviously, it’s going to take the MSPB some time to review so many late cases, but the agency has already made plans to expedite the process.
As others have noted, this is an extremely important development. Even without a quorum among the central panel, the MSPB was able to hear cases as the regional level. However, when either side chose to appeal those regional judgments, they stalled. This caused several problems.
- Employees have waited for years to see their cases resolved
- Whistleblowers have suffered retaliation while the agency has been unable to intervene
- Other cases have suffered due to the fact the MSPB did not offer legal guidance on OPM regulations
- Some agencies may have abused the delays by filing appeals just to stall the resolution of cases
In short, while the agency sat without a quorum, it lacked its full power to protect the rights of Federal employees. Now that it can once again review appeals, employees may hope to find fair resolutions for their disputes.
The MSPB plays a critical role
The MSPB does not hold the final word on cases related to the Federal workforce. Federal employees may sometimes appeal their cases beyond the MSPB to the Federal Courts. However, this requires that they first take their case to the MSPB.
Accordingly, a functioning MSPB plays a vital role for Federal employees who want justice for their disputes. Sometimes, the rulings from regional administrative judges may suffice. But there’s no reason employees should have to build their cases and argue them before an agency that is short-staffed and will let those cases sit for five years. Thankfully, those days may now be past.