Fast Facts

The National Labor Relations Board addresses complaints of unfair labor practices and protects employees' right to unionize.

Declining staff numbers and recent policy changes have prompted concerns about how NLRB can accomplish its mission. Also, a federal survey indicates that NLRB employees are increasingly dissatisfied.

Objective and quantifiable performance measures can help NLRB track its progress in these areas. For example, NLRB could set specific targets for its federal employee survey results. Better performance measures can help Congress and the agency know if goals are being met.

Our 6 recommendations address these and related issues.

National Labor Relations Board Staff Numbers, Fiscal Years 2010-2019

Line graph showing a decrease in National Labor Relations Board staff from 2010 to 2019.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) obligated most of its appropriations in fiscal years 2010 through 2017 on handling complaints of unfair labor practices and for conducting union representation elections; however, the agency has experienced a recent growth in unobligated funds. For example, more than $5 million of NLRB's fiscal year 2019 appropriations were not obligated. GAO's review and a recent NLRB Inspector General report attributed the unobligated funds to a lack of effective internal controls, and NLRB has taken steps to address several recommendations made by its Inspector General to strengthen its controls and improve its budgeting.

In addition to the recent growth in unobligated funds, the number of NLRB staff decreased from 1,733 in fiscal year 2010 to 1,281 in fiscal year 2019, or by 26 percent. NLRB officials and internal and external stakeholders partly attributed the change to a 22 percent decline in NLRB's caseload. Staff reductions were about four times greater (33 percent compared to 8 percent) in NLRB's regional offices, where casework originates, than in headquarters.

NLRB reported that it has met some of its performance measures for case processing goals since fiscal year 2015, but the agency lacks meaningful measures for others, and stakeholders identified various factors affecting NLRB's efforts to meet its goals. While NLRB reported that it met most of its recently revised timeliness measures, it lacks objective and quantifiable measures for other goals, such as organizational excellence and resource management. Without such measures, NLRB will not be able to determine its progress in meeting its goals.

While NLRB officials said they believe the emphasis on increased timeliness has helped resolve cases more promptly, several internal stakeholders said they believe it has negatively affected case quality and staff morale. Data from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey show NLRB employees were increasingly dissatisfied with senior leaders' policies, resource sufficiency, and their overall organization in recent years (see figure), ranking last out of all 17 medium-sized federal agencies in 2019. Without working with internal stakeholders to evaluate pressures on staff, NLRB risks over-burdening staff, which could result in reduced employee morale and work quality.

Estimates on Selected Responses in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) for National Labor Relations Board Employees, 2015 through 2019

Estimates on Selected Responses in the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) for National Labor Relations Board Employees, 2015 through 2019

Why GAO Did This Study

NLRB carries out its statutory responsibility for administering and enforcing the National Labor Relations Act through two primary functions: (1) preventing employers and unions from engaging in unfair labor practices, and (2) conducting secret-ballot elections for employees to consider representation by a union. Recent increases in unobligated funds, reductions in staff levels, and policy changes at NLRB have raised concern about its ability to accomplish its mission. GAO was asked to examine the effects of these changes.

This report examines: (1) how NLRB has obligated its annual appropriations since fiscal year 2010; (2) how staff numbers have changed since fiscal year 2010; and (3) the extent to which NLRB has met its performance goals since fiscal year 2015, and stakeholder perspectives on factors affecting its ability to do so. GAO reviewed NLRB budget and employee survey data, strategic plans, and performance and accountability reports. GAO also interviewed NLRB officials and stakeholders, including representatives of large labor organizations and industry groups selected to obtain a range of views.

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Recommendations

GAO is making six recommendations to NLRB, including to develop objective and quantifiable performance measures and evaluate performance pressure on staff. NLRB agreed with GAO's recommendations, and described a number of ongoing and planned actions to address them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Labor Relations Board 1. The Board and General Counsel of NLRB should develop objective and quantifiable performance measures, with associated target levels of performance, for quality under Goals 1 and 2 (timeliness and quality for unfair labor practice and representation cases), and track and report performance results in the annual Performance and Accountability Reports. (Recommendation 1)
Open
NLRB agreed with this recommendations. The agency noted that as part of developing a new strategic plan for fiscal years 2022 through 2026, it will reassess its measures to assess the quality of its case processing with input from stakeholders. We will consider closing this recommendation when NLRB develops and reports on relevant goals.
National Labor Relations Board 2. The Board and General Counsel should develop objective and quantifiable performance measures, with associated target levels of performance, for Goal 3 (organizational excellence) and track and report performance results in the annual Performance and Accountability Reports. For example, one or more of the measures could include results from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. (Recommendation 2)
Open
NLRB agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it would review its Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results to consider whether the agency could use the results as measures to track performance. We will monitor the progress of NLRB's efforts.
National Labor Relations Board 3. The Board and General Counsel should develop objective and quantifiable performance measures, with associated target levels of performance, for Goal 4 (resource management) and track and report performance results in the annual Performance and Accountability Reports. (Recommendation 3)
Open
NLRB agreed with this recommendation. The agency highlighted actions it has taken to address it, such as by putting new key measures in place to prevent large unobligated balances. We will monitor the progress of NLRB's efforts.
National Labor Relations Board 4. The Board and General Counsel should develop mechanisms to ensure that the quality review of case files is conducted in a manner consistent with agency guidance, such as ensuring that quality review memoranda are issued and that critical errors are tracked and addressed. (Recommendation 4)
Open
NLRB agreed with this recommendations, and discussed ongoing or planned actions to address it. The agency noted that as part of developing a new strategic plan for fiscal years 2022 through 2026, it will reassess its measures to assess the quality of its case processing with input from stakeholders. We will monitor the progress of NLRB's efforts.
National Labor Relations Board 5. The Board and General Counsel should, in collaboration with employees and NLRB unions, evaluate performance pressure on personnel and make resource adjustments as necessary. (Recommendation 5)
Open
NLRB agreed with this recommendation. The agency said it is evaluating staffing needs through its regional offices and has begun to address those concerns. For example, NLRB stated that it adjusted its fiscal year 2021 operating plan to fund additional positions. We will consider closing this recommendation when NLRB completes these efforts.
National Labor Relations Board 6. The Board and General Counsel should develop mechanisms to improve communication with key internal stakeholders, such as the NLRB unions, to increase transparency and collaboration in implementing agency policies. (Recommendation 6)
Open
NLRB agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that it has taken steps to reestablish more collaborative relationships with both NLRB unions, and sought feedback from internal stakeholders on how to improve communication. We will monitor the progress of NLRB's efforts to develop mechanisms to improve communication.

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