Lawmakers, whistleblower advocates push Biden to fill federal employment board

This article features our Senior Counsel David Seide and was originally published here.

Lawmakers are urging President Biden to fill an obscure employment board responsible for determining the fate of whistleblowers and other workers dismissed by the federal government.

The three-member Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) lost its quorum during the early days of the Trump administration and has been entirely vacant since 2019.

The board is the venue for any federal employee to fight back if they believe they were wrongfully terminated.

“Without a quorum, the MSPB is unable to act on claims of whistleblower retaliation and is at risk of essentially having to cease its operations,” Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Jody Hice (R-Ga.), leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s government operations subcommittee wrote in a letter to Biden.

“Because of these vacancies, the MSPB is unable to issue decisions on petitions for review from federal employees who allege that their agencies have unlawfully acted against them. These vacancies have led to a backlog of more than 3,000 petitions from federal employees requesting review of their allegations,” they wrote.

Roughly 60 administrative law judges have still been hearing cases from whistleblowers and others challenging dismissal from the federal government.

But their decisions can’t take effect unless they are approved by the board — giving the federal government the ability to appeal a judge’s decision and leave employees waiting for a response from a board with no members.

“To enforce them there has to be a board in place to say we agree or disagree and there is no board, so they’re in limbo. The whole agency has been in limbo for years. Their judges are there to do the work but as a functional agency they are paralyzed,” said David Seide, a whistleblower attorney with the Government Accountability Project.

If Biden nominates anyone to the board he’ll have to select at least one Republican to accompany two Democrats and get confirmation from the Senate.