First-Year Activities of the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Office of the Special Counsel

FPCD-80-46: Published: Jun 9, 1980. Publicly Released: Jun 9, 1980.

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During their first year of operations, the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Office of Special Counsel were hindered in carrying out their functions by several problems: lack of resources, lack of sufficient office space, and lack of technical and advisory assistance. Further problems exist because there is uncertainty concerning the two agencys' authority with respect to one another. Their intended legal relationship is not clearly defined in the Civil Service Reform Act or the President's Reorganization Plan. Because of this uncertainty, the Board has proposed legislation which would separate the two offices into totally independent agencies. The Office of the Special Counsel was established to investigate and prosecute violations of prohibited personnel practices within the Federal Government, including unlawful political activity and reprisals against whistleblowers. It also receives and transmits to the agency involved allegations of violation of law, rule or regulation, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, and danger to public health and safety. The Merit Systems Protection Board was established to hear and decide employee appeals, conduct special studies of the merit systems, review regulations of the Office of Personnel Management, and act on requests and complaints filed by the Special Counsel. During the year, the Board took a number of steps to improve the timeliness of the appeals process and significantly reduced the case backlog carried over from the Civil Service Commission. Several Federal agencies and employee organizations told GAO that the new appeals procedures are too legalistic and formal and that more information is needed by Federal employees on the organization and functions of the Board and Special Counsel.

GAO believes that, while it is too early to evaluate their operation, both the Board and the Special Counsel have made progress in establishing the capability necessary to carry out their responsibility of vigorously protecting the Federal merit systems. The Special Counsel's office has processed in a timely fashion about one half of the personnel practice complaints it has received. However, most of the whistleblower complaints which the office handled were not processed within the timeframe required by the Reform Act. GAO concluded that the Special Counsel did not provide active leadership in informing and encouraging Federal employees to report merit system or other abuses, did not issue needed guidance and instructions for filing complaints, and did not have an adequate case management system. GAO has also found that the Board has been slow in implementing its important merit system oversight functions. No studies of merit systems or reviews of Office of Personnel Management regulations were initiated by the Board in 1979. GAO plans to monitor and evaluate the Board's efforts in these areas.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Board and the Special Counsel should work more closely together where possible to insure effective and continuous oversight of Federal merit systems. The Chairman should monitor the effectiveness of field staffing and provide guidance and training to field personnel. The Special Counsel should (1) highlight the leadership role inform and encourage Federal employees to report possible prohibited personnel practices and other abuses, and (2) monitor and emphasize the timely processing of employee complaints and agency investigations and reports on whistleblower allegations.

    Agency Affected:


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