MSPB upholds decision that they were too far removed to have direct knowledge of excessive spending.
Two managers linked to the lavish conference that mired the General Services Administration in scandal in 2010 will be returning to work after GSA initially fired them for their alleged involvement.
In a decision last week, the Merit Systems Protection Board demanded GSA cancel the removals of Paul Prouty, former commissioner of the agency’s Public Building Service Region 8, and James Weller, the Region 7 commissioner, and reinstate them within 20 days. MSPB’s three-member, presidentially appointed panel confirmed two separate initial rulings made by administrative judges at the regional level.
“We have considered the agency’s challenges on review to the administrative judges’ specific findings as to each specification but find them unavailing,” the board wrote.
GSA challenged the initial decisions, contending the managers failed to supervise their employees and properly investigate possible misconduct. MSPB cited a precedent, however, that supervisors “cannot be held responsible for the improprieties of subordinate employees” unless the supervisors had direct knowledge of the alleged misconduct.
Instead, MSPB said most wrongdoing fell on Region 9, which was primarily responsible for planning the now notorious conference.
The board wrote that Weller “was several supervisory levels removed from these individuals and so he was not cognizant of the transgressions nor had any reasonable expectation to believe that the employees in Region 9 were engaging in wrongdoing.”
The board added that ultimately, GSA “did not prove that these particular appellants knew or had reason to know of these ill-advised planning and purchasing decisions until after the conference had concluded, at which time no action on their part would have been effective.”
The three board members said some of the basis for its decision resulted from a failure of GSA to make its case, rather than the events that unfolded. MSPB noted that GSA failed to present “sufficient evidence in support of its charges,” but declined to “speculate as to what the result might have been” if it had. The board members also said GSA, and all federal agencies, have it within their power to “make clear [to supervisors] the extent of their responsibility over the actions of their subordinates.”
MSPB’s order is retroactive to June 25, 2012, meaning Prouty and Weller will earn 30 months of back pay, interest and benefits.
Alan Lescht, an attorney representing Weller, said his client is “thrilled with the decision and looks forward to resuming his federal career.”
Charles S. Clark contributed to this report.
(Image via /Shutterstock.comsomchaij)
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