By Deborah Hopkins, March 5, 2019
I’m sure by now you have heard that for the first time in its history, we have zero Members at the Merit Systems Protection Board. Acting Chairman Mark Robbins’ term expired March 1, leaving the front office at 1615 M Street NW completely dark.
On his last day at MSPB, Robbins released MSPB’s Annual Report for FY 2018. So while we don’t have a Board (and who knows how long that will last since nobody with decision-making authority on Capitol Hill seems worried about it), we do have some new information to share.
Let’s take a look at some of the impressive numbers out by MSPB last year:
Are you seeing a trend here? That’s a whole lot of goose eggs. (And yes, the term “impressive numbers” above was meant to be sarcastic.) Without a quorum, a huge chunk of the Board’s work cannot get done. In a normal year, those subtotals are usually upwards of 1,000, including approximately 800 Petitions for Review.
I share these numbers not to slam Robbins or any of the dedicated employees at MSPB, because none of this is their fault. In fact, we know they have worked hard every day, despite the lack of quorum. The responsibility for this lack of performance falls directly on the Administration and the Congress, which for over two years have refused to put Board Members in place. This inaction has left the MSPB with over 2,000 cases, sitting in a hallway in cardboard boxes, waiting to be adjudicated. To add insult to injury, all of Robbins’ work on those 2,000 cases became obsolete last week and cannot be used by future Board members.
If I come across as upset, it’s because I am. If you’re tired of reading about this, then maybe you shouldn’t finish this article because I have more. There is NO REASON things at MSPB have to be this way. And yet it’s continued, for 786 days. I have contacted everyone I know – and don’t know – on the Hill and in the White House to try to get the message across that while maybe this doesn’t play on TV as well as national security issues, hot-button committee hearings, or North Korean summits, real people are hurting every day, more people get hurt every day, and the fix is SO EASY. Others have joined in this plea, even testifying before congressional committees and pleading with Congress and the White House to do something. And nothing has changed.
This is one of those rare areas where the inaction hurts both sides involved – the agency and the employee. There now are up to 2,000 people waiting for years to find out if they will get their jobs back. There are agencies on the hook for potential back pay in these cases. I’m not a math scholar but I know that three years (and counting) of back pay for a GS-14 in Washington, DC, plus attorney fees, can easily exceed half a million dollars. And that’s just one case out of 2,000.
But all is not lost. There is some light in all this darkness. As of right now the MSPB is still open and operating, aside from the front office. MSPB’s General Counsel, Tristan Leavitt, is now the Acting Chief Executive and Administrative Officer, so fortunately the career staff in the headquarters, regional offices, and field offices are still at work.
Let’s look at some more numbers from the report that aren’t 0s. In FY 2018, the Administrative Judges issued initial decisions (IDs) on 5,134 appeals. Here are a few significant numbers from within these IDs:
2,267: IDs on disciplinary actions
142: IDs on performance-based actions
416: IDs on probationary removals
517: IDs on Individual Right of Action (IRA) appeals [usually whistleblower reprisal appeals]
325: IDs on USERRA and VEOA appeals
1,058: Cases settled before hearing
83.2: Percentage of agency actions upheld
14: Percentage of agency actions overturned or requiring corrective action
3,077: Cases dismissed
The agency with the most cases adjudicated was the VA (1,080), and the agency with the fewest cases adjudicated (excluding those that have no appeals pending) was actually a 13-way tie at one appeal each. You can read the full report to see which agencies those were.
At FELTG, we’ll keep you posted on what’s next. And if you want to hear us rant about these injustices in person – while also teaching the law – join us at an upcoming MSPB Law Week in Washington, DC or Dallas, TX. Hopkins@FELTG.com