Broken Government

Published — December 10, 2008 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Labor relations authority: Low morale, backlogged cases

In 2007, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ranked dead last in the Partnership for Public Service’s listing of the “Best Places to Work” among small government agencies


The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), the agency responsible for ruling in federal employee labor disputes, has been swamped by a backlog of cases arising from low morale and lack of staffing. In 2007, the agency ranked dead last in the Partnership for Public Service’s listing of the “Best Places to Work” among small government agencies. An independent agency led by three full-time members appointed by the president, the FLRA is responsible not only for setting policies on federal labor-management relations, but also resolving disputes among federal agencies and unions who represent 1.9 million federal employees. The agency’s inspector general (IG) has consistently found issues with staffing levels and management practices, including unresponsive to issues raised by the IG. In its most recent report, issued in April 2008, the IG found that a backlog of 175 issues and suggestions dating back to 1998 were not acted on until January 2008.

The FLRA’s case-writing staff is down to half of what it was five years ago. Carol Pope, one of the members of the FLRA’s three-person governing board, referred to the agency’s “human capital issue” as a “crisis.” Adding to the troubles, in 2008 the board was forced to stop work when it suddenly found itself down to one member after the chair stepped down — denying it the quorum required to make any decisions. Because of this, a backlog of over 400 cases was reported in October 2008. At the same time, the agency lacks a general counsel and so the FLRA has also been unable to issue any rulings on unfair labor practices. Newly-confirmed Chairman Thomas Beck told the Center that he was aware of the agency’s problems and that he has both short-term and long-term plans for increasing staff numbers and morale.

In October 2008, the Senate confirmed Carol Pope and new Chairman Thomas Beck to the FLRA, enabling the Authority to have the necessary members for a quorum. Both members have stated that they want to get the agency back on track; as of the end of November, they had voted on 18 cases, and Beck has said they are reviewing the backlog of cases. President Bush nominated Chad Bungard, the Merit Systems Protection Board’s general counsel, for the role of general counsel, but there has been no Senate movement on his nomination.

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