Merit Systems and Employee Protection

FPCD-80-15: Published: Oct 22, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 22, 1979.

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In enacting the Civil Service Reform Act, Congress intended that the Special Counsel and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) vigorously protect federal merit principles and federal employees from prohibited personnel practices. The Special Counsel is required by statute to receive and investigate any allegations of a prohibited personnel practice and to refer all serious allegations to the head of the agency concerned. If it is determined that the situation requires action, the Special Counsel must report that determination with any findings and recommendations to MSPB, the agency involved, and the Office of Personnel Management. Allegations are received from individual employees, union representatives, referrals from Congressmen, and 14 agency fraud hotlines.

GAO evaluated the actions taken by MSPB and the Office of the Special Counsel to carry out their responsibilities for protecting federal employees from prohibited personnel practices. While federal employees have been encouraged to report possible prohibited personnel practices and potential merit system abuses, actions are needed to establish the Special Counsel as the focal point for receiving and responding to these allegations as was intended by the legislation. Because adequate guidance and information had not been given to agency hotlines on handling these allegations, most officials did not know which matters were under the jurisdiction of the Special Counsel, or did not know how serious the information should be before referring a complaint. The absence of specific guidance has led to misunderstanding and could involve inconsistency in handling complaints. Currently there is no assurance that all serious personnel and merit system abuses have been brought to the attention of the Special Counsel, because the Special Counsel does not have an effective monitoring system to determine types of complaints received, agency involved, or other needed information.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Counsel should take immediate action to inform all federal employees in nonlegalistic or nontechnical terms of the function and role of his office. Employee notification should include: a summary of the Counsel's responsibilities; protection afforded federal employees; a description and examples of the types of prohibited personnel practice allegations under the Counsel's jurisdiction; and information needed by the Counsel from the complainant to perform a preliminary review of the allegation. The Counsel should give guidance to federal hotline officials, such as: criteria for the types of personnel allegations to refer; suggestions about what questions to ask the complainant and facts to obtain; and a method for referring such allegations to the Counsel. The Counsel should develop and coordinate with the Board an information/tracking system which would allow it to control the cases received and provide data on the types of prohibited personnel practice cases by agency and by type. This would provide the Counsel with a valuable source in determining patterns of prohibited personnel practices in the government. The database of cases could also assist the Board's Merit Systems Review and Studies Office in its studies on processes and systems by which personnel management is conducted in the various agencies. It could also be a valuable source of information in determining potential problem areas that affect the status of merit principles in the federal service.

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