The last few years have been the most challenging in the history of the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) according to the agency’s recent annual report of the agency. The Chairman’s message included in the report does not reference the deluge of negative publicity received by the agency as a result of overturning actions by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and explained in more detail below.
MSPB Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann notes in her letter accompanying the report that between fiscal years 2012-2015, MSPB issued decisions in 61,019 cases, including initial appeals and PFR decisions issued in fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015 for approximately 32,770 furlough cases. In fiscal year 2013, the MSPB received more than 32,400 furlough appeals as a result of a governmentwide sequestration.
As of January 31, 2016, the agency says it has completed adjudicating about 97% of these furlough initial appeals. The agency also highlighted that the percentage of MSPB’s decisions unchanged by the Courts has remained steady at 96 percent in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Chairman Grundmann also noted that the massive rise in furlough appeals required MSPB to make a number of changes to internal processing and to the agency’s information technology systems. The agency is also shifting from paper submissions to electronic adjudication and records management.
In fiscal year 2015, MSPB processed 28,509 cases—a record number and a 63 percent increase over the record number of 17,466 cases processed in fiscal year 2014.
Administrative judges in the agency’s regional and field offices issued initial decisions in 25,367 cases in the most recent fiscal year which was also a record number and a 55 percent increase over the number processed in 2014.
The agency also experienced an influx of new employees recently. With an increase in Congressional appropriations in the last two fiscal years, the agency increased the number of employees to 220 at the end of fiscal year 2015—a 12% increase over the 196 positions filled at the end of fiscal year 2013.
The agency says in its report that the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 has had a negative impact on the processing of cases involving Senior Executive Service employees who do not work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The reason for this impact is because that agency is obligated to prioritize these appeals because of statutory requirements.
MSPB notes it is also concerned that recent legislation introduced in the House and Senate expands the VA SES appeals procedures to the rest of the Department’s General Schedule employees and that the new legislation would require that MSPB administrative judges issue a decision expeditiously without further appeal to the MSPB Board Members or to Court. The legislation would also expand MSPB appeal rights to tens of thousands of medical personnel in the Department of Veterans Affairs who do not currently have appeal rights to the MSPB.
Life at the MSPB in the public relations arena has not all been good in recent months to put it mildly.
The MSPB was raked over the coals in numerous articles in the press and letters from Congress regarding its actions involving the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the scandals surrounding that agency’s treatment of veterans and related issues. The MSPB reversed the VA’s removal in three cases. Because of the strong negative reaction to the decision that resulted in reinstating VA official, the MSPB publicly defended its actions.
“In response to these rulings, some have suggested that MSPB is protecting poor-performing employees at the Veterans Affairs Department. These suggestions are baseless and unfair.”
The full annual report describing the agency’s actions and operations over the past year is below.