The Merit Systems Protection Board has put an indefinite hold on processing and adjudicating furlough appeals from Department of Defense civilian employees.
The board made the decision due to the large number of appeals it had received over the past few weeks from civilian DoD employees, according to a posting on the MSPB website.
“When last we spoke, we were receiving hundreds of furlough appeals daily,” MSPB Chairwoman Susan Tsui Grundmann told Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp on Aug. 6. “Now it’s more like 1,500 to 2,000. The number of appeals has quite literally doubled within days.”
As of Aug. 5, MSPB had 15,400 furlough appeals, which exceeded the historical high of 11,000 from back in the 1980s during the air traffic controllers’ strike.
“We literally received 7,000 furlough appeals just last week alone,” she said, adding that most were coming from DoD appellants. “A number of the other appeals that preceded this period are in the process or have gone to hearing before an administrative judge.”
In a typical year, MSPB processes 6,000-7,000 cases, covering a variety of issues.
While MSPB has put a hold on DoD furlough appeals, the agency will continue to process claims from employees of non-Defense agencies.
Reps. Robert Wittman (R-Va.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) sent a letter to Grundmann on Aug. 9 expressing their concern about the board’s decision to delay processing DoD appeals.
“We would encourage the MSPB to ensure that these cases, as well as those submitted by other federal civilian employees, are addressed in due course,” they wrote in the letter.
The delay was put in place so MSPB could assess the nature of the claims, the location of the appellants and the offices where the claims were filed, and whether the appellants were represented.
MSPB is in the process of deciding how to consolidate as many of the appeals as possible. The delay gives it time to come up with the best way to accomplish that.
“One of the traditional means that we use to consolidate cases is to look at who the deciding official is,” Grundmann said. “And what we’re seeing is that maybe one or two deciding officials cross MSPB offices, so it’s the same individual. Possibly, I don’t know, all those cases could be moved to one regional office. We don’t know. That’s just one example.”
Another possibility would be to determine whether groups of employees have the same representation. Then, MSPB could consolidate the processing and adjudication that way.
“Each case will be adjudicated separately,” Grundmann said. “There may be similar issues. We do know that consolidation is not always appropriate in every circumstance. That’s one of the things we’re looking at right now.”
DoD originally announced that its civilian workforce faced a potential of up to 22 furlough days starting in April. But, that number was whittled down to 11 and then, at the beginning of August, DoD cut the number of furlough days from 11 to six, with the final furlough day expected to take place this week.
DoD Comptroller Robert Hale told In Depth with Francis Rose last Friday that there would be no additional furloughs for civilian workers in his agency for fiscal year 2013, which ends on Sept. 30.
These cuts would not affect an employee’s ability to file an appeal.
“Their claims still stand whether or not they shorten the furlough period or not,” Grundmann said. “It’s for the furlough period they experienced.”
The board gave no definite answer to when the delay would be lifted. It encouraged those involved in the claims to check back on its website for updates.
MSPB will send Acknowledgement Notices in the coming weeks to all those involved in the claims explaining the status of the DoD cases in more detail. Those who have already received Acknowledgement Notices will be included in the new round of mailings. The board also has replied to inquires from the Navy, Air Force and Army General Counsels.
MSPB is asking DoD appellants not to contact the board’s regional or field offices to check on the status of their appeals. They will be notified when processing is started on their case.
“It’s not a backlog so much as once we see what’s out there, we’ll be able to group them efficiently and effectively,” Grundmann said. “Given the limited amount of resources that we’re facing here, which is about 55 to 60 administrative judges plus support staff out in the field, but it will be effective, it will be efficient, and I’m asking that the parties and everybody stand by for a couple of weeks until we kind of get our arms around the whole process.”