Administration pushes for Senate to move on MSPB chair nomination

Administration pushes for Senate to move on MSPB chair nomination
© Greg Nash

The administration is ramping up its push for the Senate to confirm Dennis Kirk, President TrumpDonald John TrumpHR McMaster says president's policy to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is 'unwise' Cast of 'Parks and Rec' reunite for virtual town hall to address Wisconsin voters Biden says Trump should step down over coronavirus response MORE’s nominee to lead the independent agency tasked with managing federal employees’ appeals to furloughs, suspensions, demotions and terminations. 

Currently, the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) faces a backlog of nearly 3,000 cases — 300 of which come from whistleblowers — of people who were potentially wrongfully terminated or disciplined since 2017, when the agency’s board first lacked the quorum required to pass appeals since.

No one has sat on the board at all since last year.

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Trump nominated two Republicans and one Democrat for the bipartisan, three-person board in 2018. Both Kirk, who serves as the assistant administrator for employee services at the Office of Personnel Management, and former Army lawyer and labor attorney Julia Clark easily advanced out of committee in the Senate in February 2019, but the timeline remains unclear on when the upper chamber will hold a confirmation vote to fill the quasi-judicial agency’s board, where individuals serve one seven-year term.

Those advocating to fill the positions quickly argue that employees seeking recourse for wrongful firings or demotions are left with few options due to the nonfunctioning agency — a problem they feel will continue to escalate until nominees are confirmed. 

Kirk said fears of partisanship at the agency should be eased since the politics of the nominees vary, describing himself as the “neutral moderate” nominee of those up for confirmation. 

“I think we've got to do something for the American federal worker,” he told The Hill. 

“We haven't just abandoned ship on this. It’s interesting that somebody would think that leaving it empty is a good idea," he added. "Because no matter what happens, say I was anything but excellent — which, I am good — I still have two other votes against me [on cases brought to the agency].” 

Kirk’s nomination has faced pushback from labor unions, which some blame for the stall of his confirmation, who allege he lacks the experience needed for the position. 

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Kirk dismissed allegations that he is anti-union, saying that he has been a member of multiple unions including the Fraternal Order of Police and remains a member of the American Federation of Musicians. 

“I don't understand how they have any idea that I oppose unions, because that just flabbergasted me,” he said. 

“I was talking to [Sen.] Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and I said, has anybody said why that is. And she said, 'Well, frankly, you're a Trump appointee.'”

The White House has touted Kirk’s legal and military experience in their push to get him confirmed. 

Dennis Dean Kirk is an admirable man who has decades of experience in employment law and representing whistleblowers, including five years as Associate General Counsel of the Army. He is more than qualified to Chair the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an entity that is vital to enforcing merit-based practices within the federal government,” White House spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt told The Hill in a statement. 

“It’s a shame the MSPB has been dormant without a quorum for three-and-a-half years. Nearly 3,000 American federal workers are awaiting their fate and employing agencies needs answers. The Senate should confirm Dennis immediately so the MSPB can get back to work,” Leavitt added.