Merit Systems Protection Board

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Merit Systems Protection Board

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) ensures that federal civil servants are hired and retained based on merit. In overseeing the personnel practices of the federal government, the board conducts special studies of the merit systems; hears and decides charges of wrongdoing and employment appeals of adverse agency actions; and orders corrective disciplinary actions against an executive agency or employee when appropriate. The board's independent special counsel investigates, among other things, prohibited personnel practices and allegations of activities proscribed by civil service laws, rules, and regulations, and prosecutes officials who violate civil service rules and regulations.

The MSPB is a successor agency to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, which had been established by act of Congress on January 16, 1883. The duties and authority of the board are specified in 5 U.S.C.A. §§ 1201–1206 (1978).

The board has responsibility for hearing and adjudicating appeals by federal employees of adverse personnel actions, such as removals, suspensions, and demotions. It also resolves cases involving re-employment rights, the denial of periodic step increases in pay, actions against administrative law judges, charges of merit-system violations, and prohibited personnel practices, including charges in connection with whistle-blowing (i.e., the reporting of illegal acts). When President bill clinton reauthorized the MSPB and the Office of Special Counsel in 1994, he directed that federal employee whistle-blowers and other victims of prohibited personnel practices receive additional protections. Clinton instructed the agencies to follow appropriate procedures to protect the constitutional rights of such federal employees.

The board has the authority to enforce its decisions and to order corrective and disciplinary actions. An employee or applicant for employment who is involved in an appealable action that also involves an allegation of discrimination may ask the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to review a board decision. Final decisions and orders of the board are appealable to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The board reviews regulations issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and has the authority to require agencies to cease compliance with any regulation that could constitute a prohibited personnel practice. It also conducts special studies on the civil service and other Executive Branch merit systems and reports to the president and the Congress on whether the federal workforce is being adequately protected against political abuses and prohibited personnel practices.

The Office of the Special Counsel is responsible for investigating allegations and other information concerning prohibited personnel practices; prohibited political activities by federal and certain state and local employees; Arbitrary or capricious withholding of information in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 552 et seq.) (1986); prohibited discrimination when found by appropriate authority; and other activities that are prohibited by any civil service law, rule, or regulation. The special counsel initiates disciplinary and corrective actions before the board when warranted.

The special counsel is also responsible for receiving and referring to the appropriate agency information that evidences a violation of any law, rule, or regulation; mismanagement; gross waste of funds; abuse of authority; or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.

Since the late 1990s, the board has expanded the amount of information on its web site. Federal employees who wish to file an appeal may download forms and rules. In addition, the decisions of the board are now posted on its web site, <>.

Further readings

Merit Systems Protection Board Web site. Available online at <> (accessed November 11, 2003).

U.S. Government Manual Web site. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


Administrative Agency; Administrative Law and Procedure; Bureaucracy; Merit System.

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