The agency that handles furlough appeals for federal employees is moving forward with a record number of challenges from Defense Department employees.
The Merit Systems Protection Board has docketed, or tagged, nearly all of the 32,000 furlough appeals that employees have filed in fiscal 2013, and has started adjudicating some of those cases. The small federal agency announced in August that it would delay the processing and adjudication of furlough appeals from Defense Department employees until it could get a better handle on them and consolidate similar appeals. MSPB, which has slightly more than 200 employees in Washington and in eight regional offices nationwide, has called the number of appeals “unprecedented” and “overwhelming.” By contrast, the agency’s regional offices in fiscal 2012 received about 6,000 total appeals, which include furlough- and non-furlough-related issues.
MSPB’s Northeastern and Western regional offices have consolidated a “small number” of appeals, according to the agency, and the Denver field office is adjudicating furlough appeals from Defense employees. Ninety-nine percent of the 32,000 furlough appeals MSPB has received this fiscal year were from Defense workers forced to take unpaid leave because of sequestration. The agency can consolidate appeals that share similar characteristics, such as the type of issues raised, or location of the employee, to expedite processing, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect the parties involved. Some non-Defense furlough appeals filed this fiscal year also have been consolidated and adjudicated to date, according to MSPB.
The agency has notified employees who filed furlough appeals that have been docketed. “As noted in the previous [online] update, because of the volume of these appeals, we will not be able to begin adjudicating all cases at once, so if you become aware of others whose furlough appeals are being adjudicated, that does not mean your appeal has been overlooked,” MSPB said on its website.
MSPB administrative judges have issued some decisions so far in furlough appeal cases from employees of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. The judges agreed with the agency’s decision to furlough the employees in those instances.
Board officials have worried since before the mandatory budget cuts took effect in March that the tiny, quasi-judicial agency could be flooded with appeals from furloughed employees governmentwide. The only other time something like this happened, according to officials, was in the 1980s when the agency had to process 12,000 personnel-related appeals during the air traffic controller strike. That took two years, and at the time, MSPB had about double the number of employees it has now.
Among its other responsibilities, MSPB adjudicates appeals of “adverse personnel actions” from federal employees who’ve been fired, suspended for more than 14 days, furloughed for 30 days or less, demoted or had their pay cut. Agencies must give furloughed employees 30 days’ advance notice; once on furlough, employees have 30 days to file an appeal with MSPB.
The average appeal processing time in fiscal 2012 was 93 days for an initial decision from the agency. The losing party can then file a petition of review with the agency’s three-member board in Washington. It took an average of 245 days in fiscal 2012 to process those petitions, which are rare.