WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, outlined how the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) must safeguard the integrity and efficiency of the federal government at a hearing to consider the nominations of Cathy A. Harris to serve as a member and Chair of the MSPB, and Tristan L. Leavitt and Raymond A. Limon to serve as members of the MSPB. Portman expressed the need to hear from the nominees about how they would promptly address the MSPB’s case backlog, protect the federal merit system against partisan, political, or other prohibited personnel practices, and protect whistleblowers.
A transcript of his opening statement can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Chairman Peters. I have to go give another opening at another hearing and then I’m going to come back for additional questions. I see Senator Grassley is here, the distinguished President Pro Temp Emeritus of the United States Senate so I’m going to be even more brief.
“First of all, to Ms. Harris, Mr. Leavitt, and Mr. Limon, congratulations on your nomination. I appreciate you being here today.
“This Merit Systems Protection Board is really important and I’ve talked to all three of you already by telephone and we talked about the role it plays in safeguarding the integrity and efficiency of the federal government. It is a quasi-judicial agency that is charged with protecting the federal merit system against partisan, political, or other prohibited personnel practices. And one of the things that concerns us on this Committee is the fact that there has not been a quorum forever. In fact, it is the longest the agency has been without a quorum in its history. There is now a backlog of 3,000 cases.
“I’ve talked to all three nominees about how they would deal with that and we thank all the employees and administrative judges who have tried over the last three years to keep the agency’s mission alive, but it is tough to do it without a quorum on the Board to make decisions.
“Along with its adjudication function, MSPB has the power and responsibility to study and report on critical federal workforce issues, also an important issue. This oversight is crucial at a time when the federal workforce faces unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19. A lot of folks have stayed home, worked from home, creating a new and challenging dynamic between the agency management and their employees. Many agencies continue to do that. Many have dramatically changed their work from home policies. The effects of mass telework in the federal government on employees, the public, and overall satisfaction and productivity are still largely unknown, and that’s something MSPB ought to be playing a big role in.
“They also play a role in the whistleblower protection. And that’s one reason Senator Grassley is here, probably, because he feels strongly about that. Not only does the Board adjudicate retaliation claims under the Whistleblower Protection Act, but the Board also has the power to study and report to Congress on existing whistleblower protection issues and ways to improve those protections through law.
“I look forward to hearing the perspective that each of you would bring to the Board, how you would promptly address the MSPB’s case backlog, and your views on the critical federal workforce issues facing our government. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”