MSPB’s Burden Grows with Workforce Reductions

Jan 25, 2018


The Merit Systems Protection Board may see more work due to the government reorganization initiative and efforts to reduce the size of the federal workforce.

“Workforce reductions could mean an increase in appeals involving furloughs, RIF’s, or early retirements through Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP)”, MSPB wrote in a FY2017 report. “Legislative changes and budget reductions not only affect our adjudication functions, but they also emphasize the need for strong merit rules and [Office of Personnel Management] review programs to ensure the federal workforce continues to be managed under the merit system principles and free from prohibited personnel practices.”

MSPB could have a tough time processing more appeals because it still lacks a quorum and can’t decide on all cases until it gains at least one presidentially approved, Senate-confirmed board member. The Chairman and only board member, Mark Robbins, described MSPB’s lack of quorum the biggest challenge the agency faced in 2017.

He has weighed in on 750 matters but those are still pending until MSPB adds another board member. “The number of cases grows each week,” Robbins said. “This is the largest inventory of cases at headquarters awaiting member action in our history. It constitutes the largest number of cases awaiting action at the start of the future board members’ services.”

Cases include petitions for review, requests to review regulations and actions at OPM, and original jurisdiction proceedings. MSPB processed 6,028 cases in FY2017, which is below 9,794 of the previous year. But the board said comparing the last year with previous ones isn’t a fair representation of the agency’s work. “Due to the lack of quorum for most of the FY2017, headquarters case processing statistics represent only slightly over ¼ of the past quarter,” MSPB said. “Therefore, these data are not comparable to HQ case processing statistics in prior annual reports which covered data over entire fiscal years.”

The board decided 207 cases during the first 3 months of the year before it lost its quorum. MSPB field and regional offices processed 5,811 cases in 2017.

Robbins also noted other MSPB human capital challenges. Most of their workforce is eligible to retire soon. About 22% of the agency’s employees are retirement eligible in 2 years, including a quarter of administrative judges in field and regional offices. MSPB must be “prepared to face external factors such as changes in law and jurisdiction and governmentwide reorganization leading to budget and workforce reductions,” Robbins said.

Employee Engagement

MSPB is also responsible for reviewing and reporting on significant actions from OPM. In its recent report, MSPB looked at how OPM administers the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and whether the survey prompts managers to make meaningful changes to improve employee engagement.

MSPB focused on the 42% who said they believed the results of the survey were used to make their agencies a better place to work. The low number concerned the board and caused them to question whether the survey, in general, was a valuable tool to improve engagement.

“When agencies evaluate survey data, they typically implement improvement strategies to address problem areas,” MSPB said. “However, it may take more than one year to experience change because of these strategies. If agencies try to assess or judge the results based on annual survey responses instead of longer-term trends, they could reach misleading conclusions.”

MSPB also thinks OPM should ask for legislative changes to the survey process because low FEVS participation rates may mean federal employees are tires of these questionnaires if they don’t believe their responses will make any meaningful change.

“Agency leadership should realize that employee engagement may suffer during workforce reshaping efforts simply due to employee fears of changes to may or may not be planned in the workplace,” MSPB wrote. “Management should be as transparent as possible regarding any planned workplace changes and should effectively communicate to employees what the changes are and why they’re occurring.”

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