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Internal and Union Grievance Procedures

Agency Grievance Procedures


The actual procedures used in a particular agency usually have to be obtained from the agency personnel office, which may require considerable persistence. They may include arbitration, peer review or ombudsmen. They may be implemented by that office, the General Counsel's office, or supervisors at a higher level than the manager involved. Hearings are rare or very limited; strict time limits usually apply. Oftentimes, employees use these procedures without legal assistance. Some attorneys criticize them as merely creating a record unfavorable to the employee, while time passes and the hostile work environment continues. Employees almost never know the track record of the grievance process or official beforehand. Claims and decisions are not published to the outside world; they may or may not be confidential within the agency.

Security Clearances and Military Issues

Appeal rights in connection with security clearance revocations, downgrading or denials can only be pursued through agency-established grievance procedures. For example, the Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General handles, but has not chosen to document, most outcomes for employees invoking the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. Clearances are considered privileges, not rights, and are uniquely within the President's authority. The Supreme Court in Department of the Navy v. Egan explicitly denied the MSPB jurisdiction over actions to remove employees based on national security considerations. The Federal Circuit affirmed that position in 2000, despite a catch-all provision in the 1994 Amendments. Pending legislation could overturn that.

Ethics Officers

The Office of Government Ethics establishes ethics standards applicable throughout the government. Agencies select employees as their Ethics Officers, to act as liaisons with the OGE. Their loyalty is often to their own agency, and some may reveal information to the complained-about official. Here's additional discussion about ethics. OGE is supposed to ensure that executive branch decisions are not affected or appear to be tainted by conflicts of interest (such as bribery or referral of business to firms operated by relatives). OGE issues legal opinions concerning conflict of interest questions involving executive branch employees. The individual agency then investigates, except that the OSC handles political activities of government employees (Hatch Act).

Union Procedures

Federal employees in union bargaining units (about 60% of all federal executive branch positions and 90% of postal workers) may pursue the procedures negotiated in their collective bargaining agreement. The union invokes these procedures on behalf of the employee, who in theory may not need to be a union member (although some may believe representation may be more zealous for union members). Here's a discussion of union whistleblower issues, with links to various union home pages.
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