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Merit Systems Protection Board weighs security powers against employee rights

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Tom Devine, legal director of the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, told the panel that "the stakes could not be higher" in the MSPB cases.

It is crucial, Devine said in an interview, to "maintain the rule of civil service law over a potentially all-encompassing national security exception."

In the case of Rhonda K. Conyers, a DFAS accounting technician in Columbus, Ohio, the Pentagon removed her security clearance, and that action led to her dismissal.

"Since the Agency did not have work available for [her] to perform without a security clearance, her removal promoted the efficiency of the service because it allowed her superior to replace her with someone who met all the qualifications of the . . . position," the Defense finance agency wrote in its brief.

Grajales said Conyers, with 20 years of federal service, was particularly upset after her dismissal because a Defense Department administrative judge recommended that she be granted eligibility for a sensitive position.

The other case concerned the demotion of Devon Northover, who worked for the Defense Commissary Agency at Gunter Air Force Base in Alabama. He was demoted after officials decided to deny him "eligibility for access to classified information and/or occupancy of a sensitive position," according to the agency's brief.

"There is no dispute that appellant's eligibility was revoked in this case," the brief says. "Nor has the appellant raised any argument that the agency failed to follow applicable procedural requirements."

The central point in both cases is that Conyers and Northover, who has been reinstated, did not require security clearances to do their jobs, a point that Defense Department attorneys did not contest.

If the board agrees with the Pentagon's argument, AFGE said in its brief, it "would break with established Board precedent, and would unnecessarily and unfairly diminish the rights of those myriad federal employees who occupy sensitive designated positions but who do not have access to classified national security information."

Copies of the briefs and other information can be found at www.mspb.gov.


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