The Office of Management and Budget won’t let the National Labor Relations Board spend money allotted to the agency by Congress because the White House wants to take some of it back, sources familiar with the situation tell Bloomberg Law.
“The agency heads are claiming that OMB told them” the labor board “can’t spend past April” because the White House and some Republican lawmakers are considering trying to rescind part of the board’s funding, one source said. Sources spoke with Bloomberg Law on the condition of anonymity.
The move comes as NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb has cited looming budget cuts to justify controversial proposals to overhaul the labor board and shrink its field office foot print. Robb, who Trump appointed as the board’s general counsel last year, is considering stripping the board’s regional directors of some of their authority and revamping board investigations to speed the process.
Sources said the cash freeze won’t force any drastic changes by NLRB leadership to make ends meet. It shows, however, that the Trump administration believes there’s some fat that could be trimmed at the labor board.
Lawmakers ignored the 9 percent funding cut the White House suggested for the NLRB this year and largely disregarded similar proposals for other agencies. Robb has since resisted calls from critics—including the two unions representing NLRB employees—to drop the reorganization plans, saying that future funding reductions are likely.
President Donald Trump in late March signed legislation passed in Congress to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year. The White House and a group of Republicans are reportedly considering clawing back some of that cash through a little-used budget rescission process.
Federal law allows the president to freeze money for specific federal programs for up to 45 days after signing spending legislation. The White House must release the money at the end of that period unless Congress agrees to rescind the funds.
It’s unclear whether there’s enough support in Congress to take back some of the money appropriated to the NLRB and other agencies. Unlike legislation, the Senate can pass a budget rescission resolution with a simple majority of lawmakers voting in favor of the measure.
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta told the House Ways and Means Committee April 17 that the Labor Department is also is “in discussion with OMB around a potential rescission.” The omnibus legislation provides $12.2 billion in discretionary funding for the DOL, an increase of $192 million from fiscal year 2017.
Call for Belt Tightening
OMB director Mick Mulvaney last year directed federal agencies to largely freeze hiring and reorganize operations to reduce the federal government workforce. The White House later proposed a budget—an annual wish-list that Congress often ignores—that would’ve boosted federal spending on defense by $54 billion while cutting the same amount from domestic programs.
Congress ultimately passed an omnibus spending package that kept NLRB funding steady at $274 million. The legislation also includes provisions to limit the administration’s ability to reorganize federal agencies.
The OMB’s directive, though, could support Robb’s proposals to overhaul NLRB field offices and revise case-processing procedures. Robb has suggested reducing regional directors’ authority and other moves to speed the resolution of labor complaints and union election cases. He’s said some of those processes have not been updated in decades.
Employees inside the agency are griping about Robb’s proposals in a public way rarely seen at the labor board. Some believe those moves could gut the agency’s ability to carry out certain parts of its mission. The NLRB is largely the sole enforcer of federal unionization and other labor protections because the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t allow workers, unions, and businesses to go directly to court.
With assistance from Tyrone Richardson
(Updated to include labor secretary quote)