True Leaders Protect Their Employees: The Plight of Federal Workers

The author says that the lack of confirmed appointees at the MSPB and FLRA indicates a failure of leadership on the part of the president.

Federal employees carry out their duties with the expectation that they have their leaders support.

Great leaders support their employees by fostering a working environment that facilitates teamwork, productivity, and emotional well-being. Great leaders recognize their employees are valuable assets and ensure those employees feel protected in the workplace for the good of the organization.

When employees believe their leaders will protect them, those employees work hard to reach the goals set by those leaders. Plainly put, they have each other’s back.

Leaders should ensure employees feel free to disagree and raise concerns without fear of retaliation and the raised concerns should be promptly address by leadership.

When leaders fail to address concerns in a timely manner, employees lose faith in their leader’s ability to protect them and organizational morale and productivity suffer. When an employee feels unsafe and unprotected in the workplace, she spends valuable time protecting herself from possible professional attacks rather than use her time to further the aims of the organization.

In some cases, the employee seeks assistance in stemming attacks from leaders of federal organizations outside of her own, such as the Office of Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), in an effort to alleviate the perceived unsafe conditions of her work environment.

Nominations to MSPB and FLRA

The MSPB, and other federal organizations established to assist federal employees with various workplace issues, have leaders who are nominated or appointed by the President of the United States. The President nominates or appoints those leaders to positions where they are required to faithfully and productively discharge the duties of the office.

The leader of our nation, as of February 2019, has appointed over 500 people to federal leadership positions in his two years of service as President. Numerous other key positions await presidential nominations or appointments.

Although several of the remaining positions directly relate to providing protections for federal employees, the President has stated he does not plan to make appointments for many of those positions. Two key employee-protection organizations that have been hampered by the President’s failure to make appointments or successful nominations are the MSPB and the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA).

The MSPB’s mission is to protect the federal merit systems principles (i.e., ensure federal employees are hired and maintained based on their ability to perform jobs) and promote an effective federal workforce free of retaliatory personnel practices. The MSPB accepts and adjudicates employee complaints in an effort to meet its mission.

President Trump has not successfully nominated the necessary members to the MSPB which leaves the MSPB in a position where its mission of protecting federal employees is greatly hampered. Although the President has nominated people to serve on the MSPB, those nominees were not found to be acceptable (i.e., not confirmed) by Congress. Therefore, over the last two years, the MSPB has not been able to decide cases concerning federal employees. Therefore, thousands of cases, since January 2017, have been awaiting a successful presidential nomination and resolution. The employees who filed those cases have likely been subjected to continued harm, if not already fired.

The FLRA governs labor relations between the federal government and its employees. The FLRA adjudicates disputes and decides cases concerning allegations of unfair labor practices leveled against federal agencies by federal employee unions—on behalf of federal employees.

The President has not appointed a General Counsel to the FLRA which leaves the FLRA in a position where unfair labor practice complaints cannot progress through the legal process. The lack of a General Counsel means unfair labor practices cannot be investigated and cannot be prosecuted, when warranted.

The FLRA has been without a General Counsel since January 2017. Therefore, several cases cannot be resolved until a presidential appointment of a General Counsel has been processed.

A True Leader?

The President’s decision against nominating or appointing the necessary personnel to the MSPB and the FLRA has left thousands of his federal employees unprotected and potentially in an unsafe working environment. Since leaders set the stage for how their employees will perform, the inaction of the President has likely hindered productivity in the federal workforce which could lead to increased inefficiencies and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.

Many scholars believe a direct correlation exists between maximizing employee emotional well-being and increased organizational productivity. Therefore, appointing the necessary personnel to organizations that seek to protect and facilitate the well-being of federal employees should be a priority of the U.S. President. The President should recognize federal employees are valuable assets and should revitalize the organizations that protect employees by making key nominations and appointments for the good of the country.

Leadership responsibilities include providing employee protections. When a leader consciously takes actions, or fails to take actions, that result in an unprotected and potentially unsafe working environment for his employees, it begs the question of whether or not those employees have a true leader.

Harroll Ingram has over 27 years of experience as a Training Systems Engineer for the Federal Government and holds a Doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership.