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Procedures within the Federal Civil Service System

Internal Procedures


Agencies can choose to establish internal grievance procedures, and most do, even apart from the collective bargaining context. All executive agencies have ethics officers, who are supposed to help employees with ethical dilemmas, but who may be of little use. For security clearance and military issues, internal procedures provide the only avenue of appeal. Collective bargaining agreements which include grievance procedures cover approximately 60% of federal workers, although few high level professionals. Covered employees cannot simultaneously use union grievance procedures and the MSPB system, so might find this link to union contacts helpful.

Administrative Avenues Appealable through the Federal Circuit (OSC and MSPB)

Links to Federal Agency Web sites
BulletOffice of Special Counsel (OSC)
Bullet Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Bullet Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB)
Bullet Department of Labor (DOL)
Bullet Office of Government Ethics (OGE)
BulletDepartment of Energy Hearings and Appeals: Whistleblower Decisions
BulletDepartment of Health and Human Services
State Links
BulletWorkers' Compensation links

Since 1978, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) has adjudicated personnel issues. Originally, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) was to protect whistleblowers while working within MSPB. In its rocky early start, some even thought it promoted retaliation. In 1989, Congress unanimously passed the Whistleblowers Protection Act and made the OSC financially independent.

Congress continues to receive discouraging reports about ongoing retaliation in federal agencies, even after strengthening whistleblower protections in the 1994 reauthorization cycle. Those 1994 amendments overruled numerous cases decided by the MSPB and Federal Circuit, but are often ignored by OSC staffers and their MSPB counterparts. Both agencies' atmospheres of secrecy, abetted by the Federal Circuit's unusual records non-availability policy, can mean overworked employees apply old anti-whistleblower biases. For what it's worth, here's a link to the supportive legislative history.

Administrative and Judicial Avenues Reviewed by Regional Courts of Appeal (including EEOC, DOL and District Court Cases)

Most cases claiming violations of federal laws or illegal actions by federal officials are brought before the federal District Court in a particular affected geographic area. These include: accusations of wrongdoing by federal employees, claims of false imprisonment and illegal arrests (potential Fourth Amendment violations) and free speech cases (potentially protected by the First Amendment). Other possibly applicable statutes include the Privacy Act (confidentiality of employee records), Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Federal Tort Claims Act. District courts also decide qui tam suits, sometimes known as the "private attorney general" lawsuits, involving private prosecutions of fraud against the government. Adverse decisions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or OSC deferring to the EEOC in civil rights, age or disability discrimination cases) can be appealed to District Courts rather than the Federal Circuit.

District court decisions can be appealed to regional appellate courts (the numbered and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeal). Those regional federal appeals courts also review decisions of the Departments of Labor and Energy concerning health and safety violations (and illegal retaliation afterward).

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