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.

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