Does the MSPB Have a Future?

The MSPB may be an agency about to disappear with various reform proposals floating around Washington. But the recent numbers of case decisions before the Board may help their argument that they are an effective, efficient agency.

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has been in the news quite a bit recently. The MSPB was created in 1978 and handles various appeals for federal employees.

It may not be an overstatement to say that it is an agency that is fighting for its life or at least watching its future existence being questioned in Congress and the press. Employees in the Department of Homeland Security may end up with a much different human resources system, including appeals of agency actions, than the rest of the government.

Moreover, the Department of Defense is seeking to have these appeals removed from the jurisdiction of the MSPB. If the Dept. of Homeland Security and DoD are not under the broad jurisdiction of the MSPB, it would mean that a majority of federal employees won’t be using their services.

The problem from the perspective of some senior officials is that the appeals process is slow. It is cumbersome. It is complex. And, as we have noted previously (see the link on the left hand side of this page), the vision of the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA) of having incompetent federal employees removed for poor performance hasn’t worked any better than it did before the CSRA was passed.

While the fault of this failure does not all lay at the feet of the MSPB, it is certainly at the heart of the system that doesn’t work well.

No one knows what new systems will be forthcoming in the next few months–although there are more than a few people who have a definite vision of how it should come out.

In the midst of this controversy, MSPB has issued its Issues of Merit newsletter. One of the topics in the newsletter is the number of cases that come before the MSPB and how they are resolved.

There were 6378 cases that came to the MSPB in fiscal year 2002. The agency says that 3377 (53%) were dismissed. The reason for the dismissal was because the agency did not have jurisdiction for the issue in the case or the appeal was not filed in a timely way. Of the 3001 cases remaining, 1629 (54%) were settled so that no decision was necessary.

In the remaining cases, about 75% of agency decisions were upheld. In some agencies, the percentage of cases upheld was higher. For example, 17 Federal organizations had agency decisions affirmed at least 90% of the time, including the Department of the Army (90.8%), the General Services Administration (91.7%), and the Department of Agriculture (91.7%).

The Board reversed agency decisions in 303 of them (22%), and mitigated agency decisions in 38 cases (3%).

The Board may be making the point that the agency isn’t a stumbling block as agencies try to become more efficient and effective in a rapidly changing world requiring more decisive action by government.

But perceptons are hard to change and the experience of some agencies has been a source of frustration. Whether Congress and other major players agree the agency should continue to handle the bulk of federal employee appeals will be resolved in the next few months.

You can download the most recent Issues of Merit newsletter from the column on the left hand side of this article.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47