The small agency handling more than 32,000 appeals from furloughed federal workers has begun moving the process forward after weeks of delays caused by the unprecedented volume of cases.
The Merit Systems Protection Board announced on its website this week that it has now assigned most of the claims a docket number for the administrative law judges who will hear the cases. Federal agencies that imposed the unpaid days off and employees challenging the action are receiving letters of acknowledgment of their cases.
The employees are seeking back pay for the unpaid days many agencies required them to take in the spring and summer to meet their budget cuts under sequestration. Most of the roughly 800,000 employees who were furloughed have completed the days, which were reduced at several agencies. Federal employee unions have been the driving force encouraging their members to appeal; the tiny merit board received thousands of cases a day for weeks.
More than 90 percent of the challenges are from Defense Department civilians, who were furloughed July 8 and had until Aug. 8 to appeal. Hundreds of appeals have come in after the deadline, but the merit board has not yet decided whether to honor them, General Counsel Bryan Polisuk said Wednesday.
Employees have made several arguments to the board. They’ve claimed the furloughs were not necessary to save money; that the agency could have made other decisions; that some employees were furloughed while others weren’t.
Some appeals are being consolidated with other cases that make similar claims why the government should compensate the employee for the unpaid days.
To date, no employee has won, although administrative judges have ruled in just 40 cases. All but five were filed by employees at the Federal Aviation Administration, who were furloughed for one day last spring before Congress allowed the Transportation Department to shift money around. The judges affirmed the agency’s action, saying the FAA had a legitimate management purpose in undertaking the furlough.