Many years ago a lawyer friend was nominated to become inspector general of a large department — a very large department.
A man of high integrity and skill, he would have been superb. But one senator had a burr in the backside over some real or imagined issue, and so the lawyer never got a hearing, much less a confirmation vote.
The loss was the department’s. The lawyer shrugged it off. He went on to become one of those rare $1,000-an-hour downtown guys sought out by the wealthy desperate of both parties — not a bad clientele.
The department didn’t wither and die, either. So the nomination episode amounted to just another little ugly Washington moment.
But sometimes the confirmation process has collateral damage. Case in point: The Merit Systems Protection Board. A “board” in name only, it’s now gone three years without a quorum, and now it’s passed a year with no members at all.
Federal News Network’s Nicole Ogrysko has been covering this in detail. She reported, among other things, that three Trump administration nominees to the three-member MSPB are languishing because one or more senators had put a hold on one or more of the nominees. They’ve cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, so it’s no one there. Because senators, by custom, vote boards and committees as a group, the whole MSPB drifts in indefinite limbo.
The MSPB’s administrative law judges are continuing to decide cases brought by federal employees who think they were wrongfully dealt with. More than 2,500 of them have appealed to the board, and their appeals will sit. The board’s acting chief executive, Tristan Leavitt, told us the board in a good year can get through 1,000 cases.
Many groups have weighed in on this disgraceful situation. As Nicole reported, the Senior Executives Associationpartly blames the American Federation of Government Employees union for apparently convincing a presumable Democratic senator to place the hold.
AFGE and other unions have opposed one of the Republican nominees. From their public statements, it’s clear the unions don’t like the nominated slate.
An AFGE official said, “This administration has shown time and again through nominations and appointments, executive actions and their behavior at the bargaining table that they have no regard for justice, fairness or plain right-and-wrong when it comes to the treatment of federal employees.”
In contract negotiations at several large agencies and in the personnel actions taken in some agencies, you can see where the union would come to this conclusion. But whoever convinced a senator to stop the MSPB, if that’s what’s going on, should at least admit it publicly.
Interest groups have every right, every obligation to argue forcefully for their members. That goes for unions, trade groups, and associations. But convincing members of Congress, in secret, to gum up an entire agency that serves every employee in the government, unionized or not, is wrong and beyond the pale. And anyhow, the MSPB doesn’t deal in most of the bargaining issues over which the unions are battling the administration such as official time or office space.
The confirmation process, as anyone ever nominated for a Senate-confirmed position will attest, has been tortured beyond reason. People nominated for IG, cabinet or any high trust positions ought to be thoroughly vetted. As it is, people without specific enemies still have hundreds of pages of forms to fill out and must ensure weeks or months of delay. Hearings can be tough, and questions sometimes stupid, but that’s part of the process. Throwing sand to grind the machinery to a halt, is not.