Board safeguarding workers’ rights to overhaul its rules

June 7, 2012

The agency that hears challenges to disciplinary actions, whistleblower-retaliation complaints and appeals of many other job decisions affecting federal employees is planning to overhaul many of its policies.

Proposed rules that the Merit Systems Protection Board published Thursday in the Federal Register would, for example, require an agency to give employees fuller and clearer notice of their rights and the consequences of choosing among their legal options if they believe they have suffered workplace reprisal for disclosing fraud, waste or abuse.

MSPB is a quasi-judicial agency that hears appeals of personnel actions against federal employees ranging from suspensions to firing, along with disputes over other matters such as retirement benefits. It operates a network of regional offices with hearing officers called administrative judges, whose rulings can be appealed to the three-member governing board and then into a federal appeals court.

The rules would not change who can file an appeal or what actions can be challenged, but they would revise numerous policies to catch up with changes in law, court decisions and technology. They would: state that employees have to produce only certain supporting documents when first filing an appeal; clarify the burden of proof needed to show that certain complaints fall within MSPB’s authority; and give both sides in an appeal more time to request information from the other.

The rules specify how MSPB’s administrative judges could impose sanctions for misconduct in an appeal, including suspending or ending a hearing. They also specify when MSPB could order agencies whose decisions are being challenged to pay for written transcripts of hearings, among many other changes.

MSPB has said that the package of changes represents the most thorough overhaul of its practices since the agency began operating in 1979. The proposed rules are subject to a comment period that ends July 23.

“This is an important, comprehensive event to try to make sure our regulations are updated and will make things easier for all the stakeholders involved. It is designed to assist in providing more clarity and timely resolutions of the issues,” said Jim Eisenmann, MSPB general counsel.

“I think it’s a very comprehensive review that will add clarity and efficiency to the board’s review process,” said William Bransford of the District law firm Shaw Bransford & Roth, which specializes in federal employment law. Bransford also is general counsel of the Senior Executives Association.

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