The White House announced President Joe Biden’s selection for a permanent general counsel at the Federal Labor Relations Authority, an independent agency that governs relations between the federal government and its employees.
Suzanne Elizabeth Summerlin, who currently represents educators working with U.S. military families at the Federal Education Association, would replace Charlotte Dye, the FLRA’s current acting counsel whose term ends this year.
“Summerlin has extensive experience in federal sector labor law, advocating for a wide range of civilian employees at more than thirty agencies,” the White House said in a statement.
The nomination would fill a years-long gap in confirmed leadership. If the Senate does not certify the White House’s nomination, the FLRA won’t be able to issue unfair labor practice complaints, a major tenet of its mission. The Office of the General Counsel works to investigate and prosecute labor charges on behalf of 1.2 million civil servants in bargaining units.
In its 2024 budget justification, the FLRA said loss of staff since 2003 has been its biggest challenge. It also ranked as one of the worst federal agencies to work for in the 2018 and 2019 survey by the Partnership for Public Service.
“While FLRA has no ‘fat’ in our small agency budget, we are well past fat-cutting and have even moved to amputation (the closure of two Regional Offices in 2018 and 2019) to attempt to fund [full-time employees] and other needs,” the justification said. “During the [3.5] years without a general counsel, an unprecedented inherited inventory of 494 complaints developed.”
Both the Trump and Biden administrations had made nominations from 2019 to the present, and each time, the Senate has returned them. In February, the Government Accountability Office declared that Acting General Counsel Dye’s service from November 2021 to present violates the Vacancy Act, again calling attention to the need for a fully installed leader.
Summerlin also served as the associate legal adviser for the National Federation of Federal Employees, where she joined other union counsel on litigation that protested three of Trump’s executive orders to limit union activity and set stricter disciplinary policies.
According to the White House, Summerlin negotiated collective bargaining agreements for medical professionals in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and teachers abroad with the Department of Defense Education Activity.
Earlier in her legal career, she volunteered to provide civil services to low-income clients in northern Florida on issues such as restoring voting rights to those with felony convictions and advising housing cases dealing with evictions, according to Summerlin’s LinkedIn.
Summerlin received her law degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville.
The FLRA has another vacant seat on its Authority body — a judicial-like group of three members who are presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed for a term of five years. This body, separate from the role of general counsel, sets policy related to the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute and appoints administrative law judges.
Currently, there is one Biden and one Trump selection on the board.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.