The Merit Systems Protection Board, overwhelmed by thousands of furlough appeals from Defense Department employees (shown here), has frozen processing of those cases to gain 'a better understanding of the claims being raised' and other factors, according to a recent notice posted on the agency's web site. (Mike Morones / Staff)
The Merit Systems Protection Board, overwhelmed by thousands of furlough appeals from Defense Department employees, has frozen processing of those cases to gain “a better understanding of the claims being raised” and other factors, according to a recent notice posted on the agency’s web site.
The notice does not say when processing will resume. “We are currently working to make those determinations and will update our website weekly,” the board said. Processing of furlough appeals from employees at other agencies will continue as usual.
The MSPB, whose staff totals about 200, has faced an unprecedented torrent of appeals since the Pentagon began once-a-week furloughs of some 650,000 employees the week of July 8. As of Tuesday, the total number of cases filed in fiscal 2013 stood at almost 38,000, or approximately five times the normal number. Of those, about 32,700 were likely furlough-related, MSPB Clerk Bill Spencer said in an email. Compared to last week, however, the pace of filings appears to have slowed, he said.
Meanwhile, cases already received are affecting the board’s handling of the rest of its workload.
“My hope is that there is a mass adjudication that clears the backlog quickly” while preserving appellants’ rights, said Kevin Owen, an attorney with Gary Gilbert and Associates, a Maryland law firm that specializes in federal employment cases but is not handling any furlough appeals.
For most affected DoD employees, furloughs will end this week after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week reduced the total amount of unpaid time off from 11 days to 6. Appellants who win their cases would receive back pay, service credit and potentially attorney fees, Owen said.
For the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many Defense workers, encouraging appeals is part of a strategy to deter the Pentagon from again resorting to furloughs if it has to absorb sequester-related budget cuts in fiscal 2014 and beyond. The union has held workshops around the country to tutor employees on how to file with the MSPB and is also furnishing follow-up legal advice, J. David Cox, AFGE national president, said in a Wednesday phone interview
“I certainly hope it’s going to have an effect,” Cox said. “I believe that a strong statement has been made that DoD employees are not going to take this lying down.” If future cuts are needed, he said, the Pentagon should instead target service contractors.