Watchdog to Merit Board: Improve Records of Whistleblower Appeals

GAO notes that 2012 law increased cases, adding to workload.

A spike in the number of “individual right of action” whistleblower appeals in recent years has overtaxed the tracking software used by the Merit Systems Protection Board, a watchdog found, threatening the independent agency’s capacity to measure its performance in handling cases of workplace reprisal.

Since passage of the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, MSPB for the first time has been required to help protect federal whistleblower rights by collecting data on the number of appeals filed and the outcomes of cases the agency decides, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released on Monday.

“We found weaknesses in their recording and reporting of these appeals,” auditors wrote to House and Senate oversight committees. “We found discrepancies between the data MSPB publicly reported and the data MSPB provided to us. Some of these discrepancies may have been caused by the lack of updated data."

Of the two types of whistleblower appeals—individual right of action and otherwise appealable actions—only individual right of action complaints rose, the report said. That’s a sign that more individuals had been subject to a personnel action, such as a reassignment, and claimed the action was reprisal for whistleblowing, after which the complainant exhausted the process at the Office of Special Counsel, GAO noted. In “otherwise appealable actions,” which did not rise after the law passed, an aspiring whistleblower can appeal adverse actions such as a demotion directly to MSPB.

Though MSPB has “taken steps to collect whistleblower appeals data,” GAO found shortcomings in coding that led to over-reporting the number of cases closed. “Further, MSPB has not updated its data entry user guides to reflect new reporting requirements nor has it instituted checks to ensure data accuracy,” the report said. 

GAO recommended that the MSPB chairman update the agency’s data entry user guide, and add a quality check in its data analysis and reporting process.

MSPB agreed with these recommendations in draft form, adding that its staff with “limited resources” handled 61,090 cases from 2012-2015, a “vast amount of data.” Any shortcomings, Chairman Susan Tsui Grundmann wrote, are not the fault of individual staffers but of the agency.