Ask The Lawyer

By Debra Roth

A tribute to a true friend of feds

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By the time you read this column, you may have learned that my law partner Bill Bransford died Sept. 27 after a long struggle with cancer.

Bill served as the Ask the Lawyer columnist since February 2010 with great pride.

I practiced law with Bill for 24 years. He hired me fresh out of law school. I worked directly for him for the first nine years, and since then as Bill’s law and business partner. Mostly, he was my mentor and dear friend. Everyone who knew him thought of him as a giant in the arena of federal personnel law, an extraordinary attorney, a gentleman and a really nice guy. That is a powerful legacy to leave our federal community.

Now I have been asked to take over his Ask the Lawyer column. Those are big shoes to fill, but Bill was such a humble man who cared deeply about the well-being of the federal workforce. Therein lies the path forward, because he and I shared a common trait: We found enormous personal satisfaction in helping people, in helping feds.

So in this first column after Bill’s passing, I think it’s appropriate to first pay tribute to him in front of an audience that was near and dear to his heart. Bill was an ardent advocate for federal employees, managers and executives. He believed in public service. He believed that a federal workforce treated with fairness and respect was essential to the foundation of the American democracy. And he believed that by being an advocate for feds, he was contributing to the good of our country. I intend to carry on that commitment.

Bill knew we were in difficult times for feds, who have become political fodder and the source of media criticism. It’s a workforce stretched thin, with declining morale and an unpredictable future. He’d shake his head in silent dismay over the harm caused to the federal mission
and its workers by budget battles that have taken you to the edge — and recently over the edge
into a shutdown. But he’d also be the eternal optimist, knowing that eventually the pendulum swings back in the other direction. If Bill were giving you long-range advice from a view of 10,000 feet, what would he say? “Hang in there. Believe in what you do. Work hard at what you signed up for.”

We’re all better off for knowing him. His legacy, though, is in front of us, and one I embrace. In future columns, I will discuss legal issues facing the federal workforce in these difficult
times. You deserve to know your rights as you face the rocky road ahead.

For example, furloughs, not used in many years, were a governmentwide phenomenon and, in May 2012, Bill wrote a column about furlough rights.

Thousands of federal employees have filed appeals of their furloughs with the Merit Systems Protection Board, pending adjudication. We’ll watch that
develop.

If sequestration continues into the fiscal 2014 budget cycle, many federal agencies are already talking about reductions in force, also not seen since the 1990s. Most federal employees have
no idea how a RIF is carried out or what their rights are when subject to a possible RIF. As we head into the next phase of budget talks leading up to the Jan. 15 deadline, RIF rights will be the subject of my future columns.

And you can’t talk about the tough times feds face without discussing the possibility of being placed under investigation. Whether it be by an inspector general, internal management inquiry or the dreaded Capitol Hill “oversight” committee, being placed under investigation could put you at the center of the next “scandal.” What are your rights, how do you protect yourself, and at what cost?

Congress has passed legislation in one instance attempting to strengthen your rights when it enacted the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act last year. I’ll use this column to inform you of how the MSPB, the Office of Special Counsel and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit are implementing that law.

I also invite you to join the conversation through the Ask the Lawyer blog. Bill would want the conversation to continue.

I’m honored to take his place. Thank you for allowing me to pay tribute to a great man who was a great friend to me and to all of you.

Comments

  1. Thomas Hanley Says:
    November 1st, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Thank you.

  2. Angela Says:
    November 7th, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    So glad the articles are going to continue. They are a wealth of information, and personally I look forward to each new edition. Thank you!