The small agency receiving thousands of appeals from furloughed federal employees has delayed docketing and hearing most of them them until the volume slows down, officials said Thursday.
The surge of challenges arriving at the Merit Systems Protection Board hit 13,090 on Thursday, with 1,900 of those arriving by fax, snail mail and electronically on Wednesday alone. That’s double the appeals that had come in a week ago.
With its support staff and administrative judges overwhelmed, the merit board has put a hold on all the cases from Defense Department civilians, the largest group of federal workers taking unpaid days to meet the budget cuts known as sequestration.
The board posted a message on its Web site this week that said: “Due to the unprecedented large volume of furlough appeals being received from employees of the military services and Department of Defense activities —and after much consideration —MSPB has decided to delay the processing and adjudication of these appeals.”
General Counsel Bryan Polisuk said that once the Defense appeals slow down after Aug. 8 — the 30-day filing deadline from the start of furloughs on July 8 — the staff will resume sorting through them.
“We’ll be in a better position [then] to see what we have, and start making decisions on how to adjudicate these cases,” he said. “Given the volume of furlough appeals, it’s going to be difficult for our regions to be as responsive in the near future as they normally are.” The merit board has eight offices across the country.
Appeals from employees furloughed from other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, are moving forward.
Administrative judges have ruled on 11 appeals so far, one from an EPA employee and 10 from the Federal Aviation Administration, which took one furlough day in April before Congress gave the agency authority to redirect money from other areas of its budget to shore up staffing and operations.
The ruling upheld the furloughs, meaning that the employees will not get back pay.
The high volume of appeals temporarily knocked out the merit board’s electronic “e-Appeal” service several times this week. Polisuk said it was quickly restored.
The appeals represent a new attack by federal employee unions on the Obama administration’s decision to furlough about 775,000 employees this fiscal year to help meet $85 billion in budget cuts.
The unions say federal agencies had other options than forcing employees to lose multiple days of pay. They are holding seminars with their locals across the country to instruct their members how to file appeals, which seek to cancel the furloughs and recover back pay.
Several unions have asked the merit board to consider the appeals as class-action cases, a request that is under consideration.
It’s unclear whether the merit board will meet its average turnaround time of 120 days to decide the cases, Polisuk said.
“It’s a very fluid situation.”