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Senate Panel Advances Merit Board, FEMA Administrator Nominees

The federal employee appeals board may soon have a quorum for the first time in 2.5 years.

A Senate panel on Wednesday voted to advance President Trump’s third and final nominee to the appeals board for federal employees, clearing the way for the panel to finally regain a governing quorum.

B. Chad Bungard received unanimous approval from members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has already approved Trump’s other two nominees to the Merit Systems Protection Board. All three spots on the board's central panel have been vacant since March. It has been without a quorum—paralyzing its ability to issue decisions—for two and a half years.   

Senate Republicans had held up the vote on final confirmation for the nominees previously approved by the oversight panel, waiting for Trump to nominate a third board member to ensure the board maintains a Republican majority. Trump’s previous third nominee, Andrew Maunz, withdrew his name from consideration earlier this year. Julia Clark, one of the already approved nominees, was recommended to the post by Senate Democrats.

This is the first time in MSPB's 40-year history that the quasi-judicial agency has gone without any Senate-confirmed leadership. The two-plus years without a quorum has left a backlog of more than 2,000 unheard cases involving federal employee and agency appeals of adverse actions. Bungard faced few questions during his confirmation hearing last week, during which he promised to address the backlog quickly while upholding civil service protections.

Mark Robbins, the lone MSPB board member for the last two years until his term expired in March, told Congress in February he expected the agency to operate normally in his absence. MSPB would continue to lack the capacity to make final decisions on appeals or issue studies of the civil service, he said, but would still perform administrative tasks. Federal employee advocates and watchdogs have long sounded the alarm that the lack of a quorum limits protections for employees and provides a disincentive for agencies to reach an agreement prior to cases languishing before a toothless board.

The Senate committee on Wednesday also advanced Jeffrey Byard to serve as Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator. Byard would replace Brock Long, who stepped down from the post in March amid allegations that he misused his government vehicle. Peter Gaynor is currently serving as acting administrator. Hurricane season began June 1, though the peak of the season typically starts in August.