OPM reorganizes into five divisions for better efficiency

Addresses potential conflicts, expert says

The Office of Personnel Management’s just-announced restructuring will allow federal employees to seek policy advice more openly, as well as create new OPM positions that advance veterans preferences, diversity concerns and labor unions, according to one human resources expert.

In the most significant change, federal employees can now ask for advice on policies from OPM officials without worrying that those same officials might be evaluating compliance with the policies, according to John Palguta, vice president for policy for the Partnership for Public Service. Under the agency's previous structure, compliance and policy advice were handled by the same unit in OPM.

“It was schizophrenic,” Palguta said in an interview today. “There was a conflict of purpose.”

Under the new structure, OPM has five divisions intended to provide more streamlined and effective service to federal employees, officials announced on Jan. 5. The five functional organizations are Employee Services, led by Nancy Kichak; Retirement and Benefits, led by Kathy McGettigan, acting; Merit System Audit and Compliance, led by Jeff Sumberg; Federal Investigative Services, led by Kathy Dillaman, and Human Resources Solutions, led by Kay Ely.

In the new organization, the Employee Services unit will advise on policy, while Merit System Audit and Compliance will perform the compliance audits and reviews, Palguta said. It’s a change he believes will be beneficial for improving job relations and transparency. Before, he said, an employee might have asked himself or herself, “How open am I going to be?” before seeking help with a personnel problem from an OPM compliance officer.

Another major change is the designation of specific OPM officials as contacts for concerns related to veterans, senior executive service, labor organizations and diversity, Palguta said. Those inviduals who are points of contact also likely will be advancing public policy goals for those groups, he added.

Previously, the OPM officers handling general employee benefit concerns would have handled veterans concerns as well, for example, he said. But in the new formation, the veterans and other groups will have a specific individual to approach.

Another notable change pointed out by Palguta is that Kichak will be heading not only the employee services office, but also will be the human capital officer for OPM with operational responsibilities, which he described as a positive development. Kichak “will have to do the things that she is telling the other agencies to do,” Palguta said.

OPM also released a detailed list of the functions of each division and an organizational chart.

“OPM is more streamlined and better able to give a clear understanding of its services and products,” OPM Director John Berry and President of AFGE Local 32 Michelle Tolson said in a joint statement. “Now, all of OPM's customers -- both internal and external -- will know exactly where to go for answers.”

Among its duties is that OPM is in charge of performing security clearance screenings for federal employees. It recently has reduced delays in the program, but quality has suffered, according to a Government Accountability Office report. In related news, Christine Griffin has been confirmed and appointed to be deputy director of OPM, it was announced on Jan. 4.

Before her OPM appointment, Griffin was a commissioner of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.

In 2006, she launched the LEAD Initiative -- Leadership for the Employment of Americans with Disabilities -- to deal with the significant under employment of persons with severe disabilities in the federal government. She also served as executive director of the Disability Law Center in Boston from 1996 to 2005.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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