Another blow for federal workers: Grievance appeals board goes vacant

Posted at 9:44 PM, Mar 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-01 21:44:59-05

Fresh off of a 35-day shutdown, federal workers were dealt another blow Friday as the board that hears their human resources cases went vacant overnight.

The Senate did not act on two pending nominees for the Merit Systems Protection Board, and the extended term of the board’s sole member, Mark Robbins, expired at midnight Thursday.

It’s unprecedented territory in the more than 40-year history of the board, and experts and lawmakers raised concerns Thursday that without any members, the board’s staffers — such as the administrative judges who hear cases — may not have authority to work.

The board has already been hamstrung for the last two years because only one of its three seats has been filled. Two members are required for much of its work, such as hearing appeals of cases decided by board’s administrative judges.

Robbins was first appointed by President Barack Obama in 2011 and his term expired in 2018, but he has been serving “a one year statutory carryover year,” his biography notes.

In the meantime, nearly 2,000 cases have stacked up and the board will likely need at least three years to work through the backlog. Cases that come before the board include suspensions longer than two weeks, demotions and firings.

The Trump administration currently has nominees for only two of the three board seats. A Democratic aide told CNN the administration’s third nominee dropped out of consideration when members of both parties raised concerns.

A Senate committee in February approved those two nominees — one Republican and one Democrat. But Chairman Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said at the time that past practice is for the full Senate to act only when there is a full slate of three nominees. Those two would be held “on the Senate floor until the third nominee is brought up and, again, passed by our committee and brought onto the floor of the Senate,” Johnson said.

A Democratic aide told CNN that their members are ready to “expedite” the process when the administration names a nominee acceptable to both parties.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, voted against the nominees in the committee, saying he does not object to the nominees themselves but believes the board “is not really working.”

“They’ve become a job protection agency for federal employees,” he said.

A House Oversight subcommittee held a hearing on the topic Thursday where both the top members from both parties called on the Senate to move forward on the nominations.

“I agree at this point the Senate could solve this problem immediately and hasn’t,” Robbins said at that hearing.

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