Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hope for the FLRA?

Flra As most readers are aware, the FLRA is the oft-forgotten cousin of the NLRB.  The agency has had a particularly tough time during the current administration, with morale low and serious underfunding.  The Washington Post, however, has an article that gives some hope for the agency from what may be an unexpected source--its new Republican Chairman:

Thomas Beck runs a tiny agency, but he has a huge job. As the new chairman of the Federal Labor Relations Authority, Beck's task is to reinvigorate an organization that had become almost useless. . . .

When Beck was sworn in as chairman in October, he found an agency with a backlog of some 400 cases. Until he took office, only one of three seats on the authority was filled, rendering it impotent for months. The agency has operated without a general counsel since March, which means the agency cannot prosecute unfair-labor-practices cases. . . . Staffers had differing views on the authority's effectiveness, he said. Yet, as a group, they rated it dead last among small agencies in the 2007 "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" rankings published by the Partnership for Public Service. Morale was in the tank. . . .

The backlog of cases grew as staffing levels dropped. Since 2003, the number of employees fell by 35 percent, to 120. The agency's budget declined 19 percent, to $22.7 million, during that period. . . . Curiously, the previous management did not spend all the money it was appropriated, according to Beck. Between $1 million and $1.5 million of agency funding was returned to the Treasury each year since fiscal 2003, until last year. . . .

Beck is trying to . . . reduce the backlog, . . . he and Pope "have been working to identify cases where we can reach agreement as to the ultimate disposition, even if we sometimes disagree about why that disposition is the correct one." That has resulted, he added, in 21 decisions from Oct. 16 to Dec. 31, "the greatest number of decisions issued in any quarter since the third quarter of 2006."

He's also hiring. One additional lawyer for the case-processing staff has been added, and three more should come on board soon. That would represent a 36 percent increase. Beck also recruited a human resources specialist. Previously the entire HR function was contracted out.

Beck expressed interest in continuing on the FLRA even if (when?) Obama puts a Democrat in as chairperson.  It sounds likely that he may be able to do that, as even the NTEU federal union "has no beef with him."

Hat Tip:  Dennis Walsh

-JH

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