The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to advance three nominees to the Merit Systems Protection Board, which has been unable to carry out its role in adjudicating cases and protecting whistleblowers due to longstanding vacancies.
“Unfortunately, the MSPB has been completely vacant for over two years and without a quorum for nearly five years, leading to an unprecedented backlog of over 3,400 cases waiting for action,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.
“Federal employees … may have had cases pending before the board for years. Even whistleblowers, fired in apparent retaliation for speaking up, have been unable to get relief from the MSPB,” she added.
The three-member board lost its ability to decide cases in January 2017, when former Chair Susan Tsui Grundman’s term expired, leaving Mark Robbins as the only remaining member. Robbins’s term expired in March 2019, and the board has been entirely vacant since.
Then-President Donald Trump attempted to fill the board with three nominees in 2018, but the same committee could not come to a consensus on two of the nominations, and then-Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., determined the nominees would move forward as a group or not at all.
President Joe Biden’s three picks to serve on the board — Cathy Harris, Tristan Leavitt and Raymond Limon — all made it past committee consideration, though Harris narrowly passed with a vote of seven to six.
“While we are voting on three nominees to MSPB today, I have strong concerns about one, Ms. Harris, who is nominated to be the chair of the board. I expressed those concerns during the hearing and my conversations with her. Members of MSPB have to be steadfast in their impartiality,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
“Through her very partisan statements, Ms. Harris has generated doubt as to whether she can meet that standard,” he added.
Harris previously posted to social media criticizing then-Supreme Court nominees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett and disagreeing with the prohibition of diversity training in the federal government, but assured committee members during her hearing that personal feeling and professional opinion would remain separate.
All three nominees now move to full Senate consideration to be confirmed.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.