The independent federal commission that adjudicates federal employe job disputes has temporarily stopped hearing cases, cut out all travel and soon will charge for transcripts as it struggles to keep functioning despite sharp and unexpected budget restrictions.
The budgetary woes of the Merit Systems Protection Board come at a time when its normal 7,000-a-year caseload has more than tripled. Pending cases arising from the air controllers' strike alone total about 11,000, and the remainder of the caseload has doubled partly because of government-wide layoffs, according to MSPB's managing director, Richard Redenius.
The board, Redenius said, was caught by surprise when a combination of House, Senate and conference committee actions left it with a 16 percent cutback of its $15 million annual budget at the same time the Reagan administration was recommending that the budget be increased. The news of the cutback came in mid-December, after the board had been operating for 10 weeks on the assumption that it would have at least as much money as last year.
Having spent about half of its October-through-March allotment in that 10-week period, the board had to make drastic economies to keep itself in operation through March, Redenius said. He emphasized that, although "a handful" of part-time employes have been laid off, he intends to keep his full-time staff of about 340 intact to handle the board's caseload as best it can.
The first place he looked for cuts was in the $1.2 million annual bill for transcripts of hearings; the board had been giving free copies of transcripts to any party in a case who requested them. Now parties will probably be charged for the service, he said, and transcript notes will not be typed up unless there is a specific need.
In addition, he said, federal employes with hearings before the board must get themselves to one of the 11 regional offices when the hearing process resumes in late January or early February, because the board will not send its employes out into the field.
Redenius had no estimate of the number of cases postponed since mid-December when the board stopped scheduling hearings, but he said that even in normal times few hearings are set during the Christmas holiday season.
"This is just one of those incredible situations," Redenius said. "The administration is sympathetic to our problems and I believe the Hill is too. It's just that our appropriation bill didn't go through and we got trapped." Congress may get the board enough money to extricate it from this predicament by the end of January, he added.