Where do federal employees go to appeal a suspension or report on-the-job retaliation for exposing mismanagement? Nowhere lately.
Yet this week, Congress will try to address the problem.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Wednesday will once again consider nominees to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), while the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing to discuss the issue on Thursday. That three-person board, which hears appeals of lower level personnel decisions, has only one member at the moment.
The Board hears whistleblower cases and is the backstop for maintaining a non-partisan, professional civil service as the sole enforcement body on many cases. It has not had a quorum since just before President Trump took office. The MSPB needs a quorum of two to act. The term of the single sitting member, Mark A. Robbins, is scheduled to end on February 28.
The nominees didn’t get through the committee last year. They might make it this time, however, because the Republicans have a larger majority. In November, all seven Democrats on the panel voted against Andrew F. Maunz, a Social Security Administration lawyer. All seven Republicans present voted for him, creating a tie. Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) then decided not to bring up the other two nominees for a vote. That meant the board continued to be stranded.
A November Associated Press story describes Robbins’ workday. He spends eight hours reading cases and making legal opinions.
When he’s finished, he slips the files into a cardboard box and carries them to an empty room, where they will sit and wait. For nobody.
As of January 31, 2019, the office reported nearly 2,000 cases pending review and another 1,600 waiting for board action. On Jan 31, 2017, the agency had 557 pending review and 63 waiting for board action.
In one case Kim Farrington, an aviation safety inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has been waiting for a resolution for over nine years. Farrington says she was harassed and fired for exposing safety concerns. In another case, Toni Savage, an officer with the Army Corps of Engineers, reported fraud involving millions of taxpayer dollars. Her case remains stuck in legal limbo.
Advocates, including the National Whistleblower Center, Project on Government Oversight, Taxpayers Protection Alliance consider the current situation untenable. They call for ensuring the MSPB has a quorum of board members who agree that whistleblowers are crucial for the continued protection of the professional civil service. Many of these groups are supporting the testimony of the Government Accountability Project at the House hearing. The materials will be uploaded here following the hearing. The National Whistleblower Center had also joined an earlier letter this one to the Senate committee expressing concerns about the circumstances at the MSPB.
The meetings take place Wednesday, February 13, at 10 a.m. in SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building, and on Thursday, February 14, at 2 p.m. in 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.