Underfunding presents operations and cybersecurity challenges for FLRA in fiscal 2024, OIG says
The independent agency tasked with overseeing labor issues within the federal government is currently operating at the same budget level it was 20 years ago, while its unfair labor practice case load has risen 62% in the last four years.
The agency that oversees labor-management relations for the federal government is likely facing a budget squeeze in fiscal 2024, driven by nearly the same appropriations it received in fiscal 2004 and coupled with increased demands within its legal operations.
An inspector general’s report outlining management and performance challenges for the Federal Labor Relations Authority this fiscal year noted that the combination of stagnant funding, rising labor disputes and ongoing inflation could make operations more difficult for the agency.
“FLRA continues to plan for, but has not received, an increase in agency funding from the prior years that keeps pace with inflation. This presents a challenge to management and creates a morale problem for staff when there is continued uncertainty over FLRA’s funding levels,” the Oct. 5 report said. “These challenges are complicated by budget constraints and uncertainty.”
The OIG found that FLRA’s fiscal 2023 appropriation of $29.4 million was less than the $29.6 million it received two decades ago and, as a result, the agency has performed with nearly 100 fewer employees than it had in fiscal 2004.
The agency’s congressionally mandated functions haven’t decreased at the same rate, but have instead exponentially risen. FLRA’s Office of the General Counsel, tasked with prosecuting unfair labor practices, has seen case filing rise 62% between 2020 and 2023, with cases pending up 80%.
The office is also responsible for helping to determine whether employees will be included in the bargaining unit represented by unions, seeing its representation petitions jump 22% between 2020 and 2023, while pending cases rose 160% over that timeframe.
“The conclusion that must be drawn from these numbers is plain—recent years of budget cuts/austerity have already made it difficult for the OGC to fulfill its congressionally mandated function in a timely manner,” the report said. “Further cuts will result in a loss of confidence from both labor and management parties, due to the inability to function effectively.”
Compiling those problems is that budget tightening has also offset modernization investments in information technology, potentially making the FLRA further vulnerable to cyberthreats.
The OIG noted that the agency could address some of these issues through current and cost-saving initiatives, such as reducing its office space, including at its headquarters once its lease ends in 2026, or by obtaining permission from the Office of Management and Budget to charge fees for certain services.