Panel weighs idea of ‘super court’ to handle federal employee appeals

A congressional panel on Wednesday considered a professional association's proposal to create a "super court" for federal employee appeals in the interest of greater efficiency.

The Senior Executives Association-a group that advocates for career federal executives-has called for the establishment of a Federal Employees Appeals Court. The new court would accept appeals now handled by the Merit Systems Protection Board, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of Personnel Management.

In a hearing before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, chaired by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., SEA general counsel William Bransford testified that a super court would speed the often laborious appeals process and stop appeals from being routed through multiple agencies.

"This new court would replace all existing appeals systems," Bransford said. "[It] would provide a simple and expeditious mechanism, resulting in protection of the merit system by resolving employee concerns with relative speed, impartiality and fairness, while preserving all employee appeals rights."

Managers are often kept in the dark about the details of the investigation and appeals process, which can leave them uncomfortable and unable to properly discipline or rate performances as they continue to work with the unhappy employee, Bransford testified.

But the heads of the MSPB, EEOC and FLRA testified that their agencies' functions do not greatly overlap, and that consolidation should be carefully studied before moving ahead.

For instance, FLRA chairman Dale Cabaniss said that by law, FLRA does not address issues that can be brought to the MSPB, eliminating overlap between the two bodies.

Witnesses agreed that the appeals process takes too long, particularly with the EEOC.

But EEOC Chairwoman Cari Dominguez said the delays in the EEOC process are primarily the fault of individual agencies that investigate discrimination charges.

"I am convinced that the greatest delay occurs during the investigative process conducted by federal agencies," Dominguez said. "There is a reluctance to look at the merits of the case and then apply some judgment…[there is] reluctance by agencies to conduct anything less than a through investigation…even when allegations do not warrant such a review."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C, said the delays rest in the investigative process, and argued that creating a super court would increase bureaucracy and could make matters worse.

"Aren't we kind of putting the cart before the horse?" Norton asked. "Wouldn't it be better [to] get these cases early so whatever appeals process we decide upon would have fewer cases in the first place?"

Porter emphasized that the hearing was the start of discussions on how to improve the employee appeals process, but expects to "come up with a final answer in the not too distant future."

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said she opposes the SEA proposal because it creates an "unwieldy conglomerate agency." She said the union asked to testify at the hearing but was not allowed. Both NTEU and the American Federation of Government Employees submitted written testimony to the subcommittee, challenging the idea of a super court.

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